How OTAs Embody Organizational Culture…And Vice Versa
By Jamie Hancock
February 3, 2020
“The culture precedes positive results. It doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought on your way to the victory stand. Champions behave like champions before they’re champions: they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.”
—Late Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Walsh as written in his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself and Building a Champion
Culture exists in every organization. Yet it’s never seen. It exists as the dynamic soul of an organization, meaning it’s only evident through actions and behaviors.
LeagueApps is no different. We have built our culture through a commitment to placing our values front and center of everything. One of the most important ways we embody that commitment to culture is through our bi-annual off-site, affectionately referred to as our “OTAs.”
Recently, we held our winter OTAs, the 17th edition in our history, over an impassioned and intense two-and-a-half days in New York City.
You may be thinking, ‘where would I have heard of OTAs before?’ The likely more common use you’re recalling is typically in reference to the NFL preseason where teams hold ‘Organized Team Activities’ to help players and coaches prepare for the upcoming season. For LeagueApps and its culture, OTAs serve as an opportunity to invest in time together as a team with a laser focus on organizational and professional development and the year ahead.
To help guide our OTA experience, each edition is driven by a central theme. Our winter OTAs theme was ‘Play Like A Champion Today.’ We believe that each and every day we must show up ready to deliver up to a championship standard in support of our partners, their organizations, and the millions of kids playing sports they represent.
So, how did ‘Play Like A Champion Today’ weave its way through our OTAs agenda and drive impact on our culture? A pair of guest appearances and case studies were core to that.
Club Case Study – FC Barcelona
It was only fitting that #OTA17 kicked off with a thought-provoking presentation on FC Barcelona, the fourth most valuable sports franchise globally, delivered by LeagueApps President Jeremy Goldberg.
Barcelona is unique in its indefatigable drive to excel through culture and impact, which is conveyed through its mantra, ‘Mes Que Un Club.’ This phrase, which translates to ‘More Than a Club’ in English, envelopes the organization and is even imprinted into the seating at its stadium, the largest in Europe.
When it comes to organizational culture, what does it mean?
Barca leverages its knowledge and reach in order to influence new standards on innovation, coaching, business, and leadership. Most importantly, the Club is evaluated by how it wins more than just winning as an outcome. The culture dictates the process and standards by which it competes and succeeds on the field and builds community off the field. And there are no diversions from that. None.
Looking a bit deeper, here are six key ways that illustrate FC Barcelona’s impact beyond just soccer:
- DIVERSITY & INCLUSION: Barcelona is the only major European club investing in other men’s and women’s sports, including basketball, handball, ice hockey, roller hockey, futsal, and rugby. This commitment has driven dozens of championships outside men’s soccer and developed impactful leaders, including former team handball champion Xavi O’Callaghan.
- COMMUNITY: There is no single wealthy owner or ownership group driving decisions. The Club is governed by a community consisting of more than 144,000 members. Their core beliefs are the soul of the Club and members only will make decisions that ensure they protect and sustain the essence.
- VALUES: Its value system—HEART (humility, effort, ambition, respect, and team)—shapes all that the club does and how it does everything. Every employee and player must adhere to this system in whatever role they serve to the organization. A true team concept and execution.
- MISSION: The Club is purpose-driven in that it contributes 0.7% of all income to the Barca Foundation, which was built more than 25 years ago through a focal point to promote education and civic values. All players also contribute 1% of their contracts to effect social change (.5% to the Barca Foundation and .5% to the former player fund).
- DEVELOPMENT: La Masia, FC Barca’s youth academy established in 1979, is key to instilling its culture through an emphasis on playing style, broader education, sportsmanship and creativity, long-term player development, and an all-encompassing support system. For example, a typical day at the academy only allows for 90 minutes of on-the-ball soccer training. The majority of time is focused on other areas core to the overall development of boys and girls into the HEART value system.
- INNOVATION: During a special guest appearance at our OTAs, O’Callaghan—the FC Barcelona Managing Director of the Americas—discussed the importance of innovation to the Club and the emergence of its Innovation Hub. The application of the Hub, as guided by the organization’s culture to be ‘More Than A Club’ in building community, goes beyond focusing on internal activities. Any person or organization may participate in the Hub and its adjoining events. One example would be an experience from Lisa Frates, Executive Director of the Bethesda Soccer Club. In taking over the Maryland-based club with a storied 40-plus year history, Frates journeyed to Barcelona to learn from Barcelona’s leaders and their focus on innovation. Watch Frates recall her trip here.
Business Case Study – Warby Parker
The LeagueApps team also was pleased to welcome Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker to our OTAs. Despite the obvious differences from a European sports organization, Blumenthal’s session—as moderated by Goldberg—evoked how he and his leadership partners have guided Warby Parker from a New York-built startup to a billion-dollar global business through a similar Barcelona mantra—being more than a glasses company.
Early in the startup’s life, according to Blumenthal, the first 25 employees wrote down three to five values that they live their own lives by. Based on the responses, leadership identified commonalities and used those traits to establish the company’s values. Blumenthal took it astep further, as the company now has 2,700 employees across two central offices and hundreds of retail locations, by describing how organizational values should be a constitution—a living document that evolves alongside a scaling company.
In particular, he outlined five core characteristics of the Warby Parker value system:
- PERSONALITY: Inject fun and quirkiness into everything your culture affects.
- POSITIVITY: When collaborating internally, do not question intent; question ideas. Function as teammates in a team environment, everyone is focused on the same goals.
- SERVICE: Do good for others. For every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need.
- EDUCATION: Learn, grow, repeat. Each of our 17 OTAs have been driven by this.
- ADAPTABILITY: Embrace change and uncertainty as opportunities.
Blumenthal and the Warby Parker leadership understood that employees were mission-oriented, so they developed these values to align with this objective in an effort to retain the best people and provide them an ever-evolving culture to work in.
Applying the “More Than a Club” Concept
At LeagueApps, similar in philosophy to FC Barcelona and Warby Parker, we are committed to being more than a software company. These winter OTAs provided LeagueApps a special opportunity to learn from two of the most successful and impactful business leaders in Xavi O’Callaghan and Neil Blumenthal. We’re constantly driven by ‘who’ we are—our culture—and ‘how’ we play—our values—in ensuring that all kids have access to amazing sports experiences. By combining that overarching philosophy with a commitment to innovation, community, impact, and leadership, OTAs were a powerful platform to identify how we will continue to show up every day to ‘Play Like A Champion’ for our partners, their organizations and the millions of kids they serve.