Paintball as a culture…? Sure.

Paintball teams can learn a lot from how businesses operate. If you pay close enough attention, you will hear the term “culture” used significantly throughout media. There is the culture of a country or a people or, as I have already alluded to, a business. A successful business culture is an amazing thing to behold and you can easily recognize one if you are among it.

“Culture” is defined as the behaviors and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic or age group. But how can that translate into useful data in relation to a paintball team? First, we have to understand what exactly a “business culture” is and from there, we can identify the key take aways. I recently read an article in which MIT professor Edgar Schein described business culture as:

“… a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.”

Hmmm… I think there are aspects of that statement we can build upon and work with, don’t you?

Mike Myatt, a writer for Forbes Magazine, says that business culture is created either by design or by default. This concept intrigued me. Here is how he laid it out: A culture created by default will more than likely produce lackluster performance. Why is that? Simply put because most people look for the easiest way to accomplish or achieve something (i.e. Path of least resistance). That being said, the opposite of this approach is a culture that is created with intent or design. In order to create success (excellence), one must intentionally set out to do so and they must continually work to maintain it. (See where this is going in relation to a paintball team?) The next obvious question would be how to do this.

In order to develop a winning paintball culture based on successful business culture, let’s first use an example. How about something that is very important to me (and should be to you too): Family. Family sets the ground work for our ethics, dynamics and socialization. This is the first instruction we receive in regards to how we should behave/act. Pr1me has always said we are a family and there are certainly aspects of family in how we approach the team. There is the patriarch/leader, the “older siblings” and the younger children. Some get “scolded” and others help guide or advise. It can be very family-like when it needs to be.

Here are what many social experts perceive as the building blocks of a culture that most organizational experts agree must be present:

Values. Values are the main foundation of a culture. Values are the goal setting, the purpose and guide as to how each family member acts and behaves in different situations. We should strive for positive values such as trust, a hard work ethic, respect, honor, etc. Understand that each set of values are shaped by an individual’s education, religion, social status and experience. Now, some values amongst team members will clash. You must determine early on what you want those base values to be. For me and Pr1me, I wanted it to be honor and respect. Know that you want to avoid negative values such as resentment (why does he get to play more?), laziness (why should I help set up/take down?), entitlement (I’m the best here so I shouldn’t have to drill). Those are usually derived when a culture is developed through “default”. See how that all comes around?
A team that has positive base values like the ones I listed above has, in my opinion, set itself on the road to success. If you don’t trust the guy in front of you, behind you or beside you, you can’t be expected to play to your fullest potential. Make sense?

So how can we develop positive values for the team? Positive values require constant reinforcement and that reinforcement must include consequences when they are not adhered to. You must look for and stamp out the negative values from the team. If you don’t, that toxin will spread and before you know it, the family you have is named Manson…

Norms. These are what I like to call the rules of engagement. They represent your team’s values in action. Norms guide how your team members interact with one another and with the others (refs, other teams, sponsors). How does each of your team handle each other at practice or an event? Does one yell and point fingers? Is one never wrong about what should have happened and makes sure everyone knows it? Or do they assist each other and look for more insight or perhaps provide valued input based off recognized knowledge? If you are the leader of the team, whether you realize it or not, you are teaching the Norms through your own behavior, in words and actions.

For example, Pr1me is a private field and we do not require a field fee for a team member. However, all members are required to help set up and/or take down the field after practice. If you fail to perform one of these duties, you are not only ridiculed by the pack (see ritual/traditions) but are charged a $20 field fee.
Rituals/Traditions. This is your paintball team’s identity or soul. These are what the team has in common. It’s the glue that binds teammates together. Rituals and traditions can be the setting up and taking down of the field EVERY weekend, the meeting up at a favorite local restaurant after practice, the workouts, the drills, rites of passage for new members…(those can be interesting). You get the picture.
As with the other two pillars, rituals and traditions can either be created by design or default. When left to default, you end up with subpar rituals that are boring and meaningless and don’t bring the team together. With no identity there will be no loyalty. With no loyalty there will eventually be no team.

Look at teams like Dynasty and Vicious. I guarantee they have all of these aspects (and probably more) in play hence their longevity and success.

Creating a successful program is not easy. It should be approached with what I like to refer to as a comedic seriousness. Take it seriously but don’t be afraid to laugh at your mistakes because you WILL make them.

Not really sure how to wrap this one up so I will conclude with this –

Congratualtions to Pr1me for their podium finish at PSP’s 2014 West Coast Open as well as Pr1me 2’s podium finish at the same event. Photos to come!


Mike Bianca

Team Pr1me

Previously Posted

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