Everyone wants to be on a winning team whether in sports or in business, but teams don’t just win by chance. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcon’s former head coach shares his expertise in how to build a winning team in his book You win in the Locker Room First. These same great principles apply for businesses, schools, hospitals and non-profits. Teams rise and fall on leadership, teamwork, relationships and the 7 C’s to build a winning team. He often talks about the fact that success happens by focusing on the process, not the outcome. Mike Smith says “you win by cultivating the right culture, leadership, expectations, beliefs, mindset, relationships, and habits before you even play the game. You win in the locker room first. Then, you win on the field.”

You Win in the Locker Room First draws on the extraordinary experiences of Coach Mike Smith and Jon Gordon―consultant to numerous college and professional teams―to explore the seven powerful principles that any business, school, organization, or sports team can adopt to revitalize their organization.

Here is a quick summary of the 7C Action Plan:


It all starts with the culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Peter Drucker. You build culture up, down and across. Build culture in the board room and locker room. Everyone plays a role in creating your culture. Make sure they’re on the right track. Let everyone know your vision and beliefs. Make sure they’re in line with it. Identify what your team stands for. If you know that, it’s easier to make decisions. You have to live your culture for others to embrace it. You hire people that fit your culture, you also fire those that don’t fit. Culture drives expectations and beliefs. Expectations and beliefs drive behavior. Behavior drives habits. Habits create the future.


Become a big dose of vitamin C for your team. Share your vision and work to earn buy-in from your team. Transfer positive attitudes and beliefs. Share a no-complaining policy. Weed out negativity. Lead with passion. Leadership is a transfer of purpose, passion, optimism, and belief.


Be the same leader regardless of the outcome. Stick to your principles even if you’re not winning. Be consistent with your actions as you strive to grow. Look for signs of complacency to stop your team from resting on their past success. Stay humble and hungry. If you’re not consistent, you’ll lose the trust your team has in you. When you lose trust, you lose the locker room.


Communicate frequently with the team both collectively and individually. If you don’t communicate, people will fill in the silence with negativity. Take the temperature of your team daily. Lead by walking around and talking with people. Listen. Observe. Gather information. Reiterate and reinforce core values. Say your vision so much so that it almost becomes annoying. Be aware of internal politics and tension that can sabotage your team. Be transparent and eliminate barriers to foster collaboration. When there’s a void in communication, negativity will fill it. Fill the void with great communication.


Understand that creating a team is one of the most important things you can do. Help your team build meaningful relationships. Pay attention to technology. Use it only to supplement your communication methods. When teams start to connect, they work for each other, not just with each other. Deploy team-building exercises to open hearts and share vulnerability. Stay connected. Don’t assume relationships will last forever. Team beats talent when talent isn’t a team.


Commit yourself first before you expect your team to be committed. Lead in a way that people feel your commitment. Demonstrate your commitment through actions. Look for opportunities to commit bigger than your team while serving your team first. You don’t have to be great to serve but you have to serve to be great. Check your ego at the door. Take ownership instead of blaming problems. It’s not about you. It’s about committing yourself to the team.


Create a caring culture. When your team feels that they’re being cared for, they’ll perform at a much higher level. Value people, not numbers. Decide to be a transformational leader instead of a transactional leader. Surround yourself with people who care. Relationships are the foundation upon which winning teams are built, and all great relationships are based on value, respect, love, trust, and care.

And finally, the Big C – Coach

Realize today’s leaders must coach the people they lead to develop the leaders of tomorrow. Focus on the development of the people you lead. Listen to the vision and goals of the people you lead. Ask how you can help them to achieve their aspirations.