Getting the Fundamentals Right

Getting the Fundamentals Right

We’ve been working with a new client, the executive director of a non-profit organization. He asked our consulting team to help him build the culture within his organization.

“If we get our culture right, and if we get our internal processes and ways of doing things right, then the results will follow,” he told us.

The following week, I watched the college national championship football game between Alabama and Georgia. And witnessed, as almost everyone knows, an amazing second-half comeback by Alabama.

Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, was asked multiple times about the secret to his teams’ success. “We’re all about the process,” he told people. “It’s not just about winning. It’s about teaching our players how to do things the right way.”

I was struck by the obvious parallels in thinking.

The mere act of setting goals without paying attention to how people interact and communicate (the essence of culture) can result in mediocrity, not excellence.

Nick Saban talked in his post-game interview about teaching his players not only the fundamentals of their jobs but also standards of behavior and how they need to communicate on and off the field. “We call it the ‘Process’,” Saban said. The executive director of the non-profit wanted to focus on making sure people have well-defined expectations for how to communicate and interact with each other.

In both cases, the key is not just talking about culture, but defining what that means and providing feedback so that people know how they’re doing. For the non-profit, we facilitated the development of specific “rules of engagement” for everyone in the organization. Here are a few examples:


  • We celebrate team successes over individual accolades.
  • We look for ways to support each other’s goals and efforts.
  • We have a responsibility to help and support each other, not view each other as threats or impediments.
  • We are sensitive and patient with each other, knowing there are many deadlines and competing priorities being juggled.
  • We take each day with a touch of humor.


  • When discussing difficult topics, we tackle the issue, not each other.
  • We give each other the benefit of the doubt. We ask questions rather than make assumptions.
  • We share our thoughts and opinions upfront, even in conflict, rather than after something fails.
  • We hold each other accountable.


  • We strive to be experts in our fields.
  • We appreciate the skill set, knowledge, and contributions of each team member.
  • We respect the knowledge and experience that each of us brings to the table.
  • We commit to clearly outline our processes to avoid conflict and confusion.


  • We err on the side of over-communication – and share information and knowledge even if we feel it may not be necessary.
  • We commit to holding regular and productive meetings, being prepared, and discussing topics openly.
  • We establish clear agendas for our meetings and document clear action items and deadlines.
  • We owe it to each other to communicate directly and avoid surprises via the “grapevine.”

Using specific statements like these helps make sure everyone is clear about the cultural norms. Once they are communicated, then people can focus on modeling these behaviors. I recommend every leader go through a process like this to make sure their teams get the fundamentals right.

Leading Resources, Inc. is a Sacramento Leadership Coaching firm that develops leaders and leading organizations. Subscribe to our leadership development newsletter to download the PDF – “The 6 Trust-Building Habits of Leaders” to learn more about how to build trust with your team.

Eric Douglas

Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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