September 9, 2014 • Coaching

Understanding the 8 types of team cultures

While every culture is unique and different, we can generally categorize a program’s culture into eight various kinds.

These eight cultures are largely defined by how much the leaders and team members of the culture value productivity in terms of achieving results and how much they value people and relationships. As you read through the descriptions of each of the eight cultures, think about which one best describes your current culture.

1. Corrosive culture.

A corrosive culture is highly toxic and is characterized by a lot of conflict, negativity, frustration, cliques, gossiping, distrust and selfishness. It’s not one that’s fun to be around, and the turmoil and tension off the field or court almost surely affects the team during competition.

From a relationship standpoint, the team is riddled with cliques that divide, distract and destroy the team. Rather than battling your opponents, your athletes spend more time battling each other and the coaching staff because there is little trust. No one is on the same page working toward the same goal.

From a results standpoint, people become apathetic or even resistant toward the team’s stated goals because they lose respect for their coaches or teammates. In corrosive cultures, there is a lot of selfishness. In such a negative and dysfunctional environment, team members basically are forced to look out for themselves because they don’t trust their teammates and coaches.

As the name suggests, corrosive cultures eat away at people’s attitudes, commitment and chemistry much like a caustic acid. Ultimately, people just seek to endure and survive in this dysfunctional culture — or escape it whenever possible.

2. Country club culture.

The country club culture is one of entitlement, appearances and leisure. The priority in this culture is clearly to look good and to have a good time rather than win championships. It’s a superficial and soft culture where little accountability is expected from its members, so people are allowed to coast. Playing time and leadership positions are often not based on merit but instead on politics, popularity and payoffs.

The currency in a country club culture is much more about style than substance. Status in a country club culture is accrued primarily by the kind of gear people wear. Results are clearly secondary and relationships are superficial at best.

3. Congenial culture.

A congenial culture is one where the focus is primarily on getting along and preserving harmonious relationships. The group becomes more of a support group and social club rather than a high-performance team focused on achieving winning results. It’s almost as if the team wants everyone to play, everyone to start and everyone to travel so that someone’s feelings aren’t hurt.

While most people get along, a congenial culture’s major concern is that it can be too nice and not focused enough on results. Members are very kind to each other, but they are typically not honest and candid because they worry the truth might hurt feelings or strain relationships. A congenial culture fits well for a fraternity or sorority, but not as well for a competitive sports team that wants to win.

4. Comfortable culture.

A comfortable culture is one where results and relationships are of moderate importance. The team sets reasonable standards and is interested in doing well, but not if it pushes it out of its comfort zone. Players will train to a certain level, but once it gets tough or uncomfortable they tend to back off and not push through the natural hard work and fatigue of training.

Similarly with relationships, the team generally gets along, but there are few deep, enduring relationships and there is not a collective sense of mission between the teammates. Comfortable cultures usually produce mediocre results, and teammates and coaches who end up being acquaintances rather than close friends and mentors when it’s all said and done. 

5. Competitive culture.

In competitive cultures, there is a strong focus on results and moderate to minimal focus on relationships. The competitiveness is demonstrated both externally with opponents and internally with teammates. Team members spend a lot of time competing with each other for limited playing time, coaches’ attention and leadership roles.

While competition is necessary and can spur on great achievement, if taken overboard, the competitiveness can also inhibit or destroy relationships within the team itself. You do want a highly competitive team, but you also want them to bond, collaborate and positively push each other.

6. Cut-throat culture.

In a cut-throat culture, results reign supreme. Talent and performance are the sole criteria of success in this merciless and unforgiving culture, whereas character and people skills are often neglected. Winning is all that matters. If you can get the job done, we’ll overlook your selfishness, extreme character flaws, off field antics, and acerbic attitude. The ends justify the means. If you can’t produce due to ineptitude or injury, you are quickly cast aside or totally cut off from the program.

Relationships are not really valued because they are seen as irrelevant and sometimes even a hindrance to achieving results. Because of the business nature of professional sports where millions of dollars are at stake, some professional teams and even some big-time college programs are prone to developing a cut-throat culture.

7. Constructive culture.

A constructive culture has a solid focus on results and a satisfying focus on relationships. Team members are committed to being successful and usually willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve at the higher levels.

From a relationship standpoint, teammates strive to get along and develop a solid bond with each other. Although the constructive culture is positive, productive and often successful on and off the playing fields, it falls short of the highly intense levels of commitment, chemistry and accountability you see in a championship culture.

8. Championship culture.

A championship culture places a premium on results and relationships. From a results standpoint, championship cultures have a strong sense of mission and purpose. They know exactly what they want to achieve and have a burning desire to achieve it. These teams are fully designed and aligned to achieve their goals and are focused on success like a laser beam. They have very high standards for the team members and provide them with candid and frequent feedback on how they are doing. And, they’re galvanized for greatness.

In addition to results, championship cultures highly value relationships. Team members treat each other with respect and value the contributions people make to the team, whether large or small. Teammates take pride in their roles because they realize their value to the team and feel appreciated for playing them. Leaders are intentional about building strong relationships within the team to help people feel respected and perform to their potential.

Because they feel appreciated and cared for, team members selflessly subvert their individual goals if they know it will benefit the entire team. They take pride in being a part of something that is so much bigger than themselves. They also tend to enjoy each other’s company and forge a strong bond that often lasts a lifetime.

After learning about the eight types of team cultures, consider which one best describes the current status of your team and what you can do to improve it.

Excerpted from Jeff Janssen’s book, How to Build and Sustain a Championship Culture. For more tips and articles, visit

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