Here We Go Again

Published: August 23, 2023

School districts and sports teams are examples of teams that evolve in seasons. Every year, they have a new blend of talent and a different flavor of customers. The offseason (summer for schools and winter for baseball teams) allows a chance to reboot culture and reenergize spirit. When the new season kicks off, most everyone is optimistic and, fortunately, mostly recovered from what went wrong last year. The chance to start fresh is real, yet the likelihood of regression to last year’s unhelpful themes is high. Here’s a roadmap for a true restart.

Step 1: Get clear about your team’s direction, subject to where you are in the lifecycle of the organization. You might be either recovering from a trauma or capitalizing on momentum. Your team may be on the threshold of innovation or sorting out a disaster. So, the first step is to clarify an ambitious yet realistic goal for your team’s season.

Step 2: Demand an atmosphere of respect, accountability, and collaboration. Anything that interferes with a safe ecosystem should be called out and mitigated. Regardless of your position on the team, your thoughts and feelings matter. You might not have decision authority, but having your voice heard allows you to support leadership’s direction.

Step 3: Explore, experiment, and discover. The landscape has changed and what has worked in the past may no longer apply. Consider the viewpoints of your teammates with a nonjudgmental perspective.  The stewards want to protect the team’s legacy – so let them! The visionaries want to move to the future – follow their light! The entrepreneurs want to build the bridge from today to tomorrow – empower them! This is how innovation occurs. Part of the team protects history, another part pulls teammates forward, and some others pay attention to the steps needed to get there.

Step 4: Adapt to the change you have created. It’s easier said than done. Most of us prefer things to stay the same even though change is constant. Unfortunately, literally nothing stays the same – not our DNA, not our circumstances, not our coping resources. So, we must grow. We need to find new ways to address situations we’ve never encountered.

It’s hour-one, minute-one, and second-one of your new season. What have you inherited from last year? Are you truly willing to waste another year on the repetition of what has become normalized? Shake it up. Life is short. You only get to recalibrate once a year. There’s a tried-and-true formula for maximizing the reboot. Harness the energy of the offseason recovery to restate mission, anchor accountability, empower innovation, and strengthen resilience.

The clock is moving.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.