How to create a winning team

Former Bombers coach shares tips for leaders

By Andrea Bodie
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Paul LaPolice once visited a doctor’s office. As he waited, he noticed a sports magazine a year old.

“What kind of service do you think I got?” he asked, noting details like these are part of the bigger picture.

These are the kinds of common sense nuggets of wisdom he shared with a room full of over 200 at First Line Managers in May, 2015. LaPolice talked about how to create a winning team, how to motivate team members and the power a leader holds.

“You are all head coaches,” the former Blue Bombers coach reminded them. “As I talk to you, think how you can change your unit, maybe a small room.”

The name on the front of the jersey, he explained, is more important than the one on the back. The team you’re playing for and how you connect with that team sets the tone for everything.

He acknowledged the complexities of the Region. “I know having this many departments is hard but we had the most success when our team was working together, with their values and goals aligned,” he said.

LaPolice says the uniform – a metaphor – is always the same. A team is united in character and conforming to one principle.

Which raises an interesting question…does everyone know what the values are? He says it’s important.

“If you want to make this a team, pull up value words so everyone knows what you’re doing as an organization,” he said. “Talk about the why. The why defines success and expands options. It gives a target or goal to strive for.”

And then? Praise people when you see it. “Praise people for what you want, the actions you’d like to get,” he said.

A compliment a day, said LaPolice, can raise your expectations of what you can do each day with the people you’re working with.

“Treat people well. You never know when it comes back to you during tough times,” he said. “It always helps me with my belief system of what I’m doing right.”

LaPolice once took the time to draft a handwritten note to every player. “Don’t celebrate the average. I wrote what I was proud of what they did, what I wanted them to get better at and what to believe in,” he said. “The responses from the players was truly touching. It had tremendous meaning for them, and really went a long way to acknowledging their contribution while motivating them to bring their best.”

As leaders, LaPolice believes how you work with others and deal with others is your resume. “I work hard for my players. If you took the job, you gotta do the job,” he said. “You have to be present in the moment with a person instead of carrying through to the next person but your mind is somewhere else. We had a saying you may find helpful: don’t bring any sh*t into the hub.”

The mistake most leaders make, he says, is believing they’re the boss and need to tell people what to do.

“No. Shut up and listen. Your employees know what has to be done,” he said. “Listen to them. Treat your staff with respect. Give them an opportunity to be successful and learn.”

LaPolice has an inspired moment when he decided to ask players what they need. Find the person the group trusts the most and ask, “if you were me, what would you do better? What do you need? What can I help you with?” The answers may surprise you.

They did when LaPolice asked them.

“Showers was the answer I got, along with the observation that no one had ever asked before. But of 12 shower heads, only four worked,” he said. “So we spent $150 and got new shower heads…and I had a happy team, who kept telling me, ‘Thanks Coach, the shower’s awesome’.”

Think about how you communicate. Motivational posters are a great idea, but LaPolice discovered it means so much more when a player is on a poster.

“It was such a simple and inexpensive gesture. I created the posters – they said winners have the toughness and determination to pay an individual price for the team’s success…your job is to score - in PowerPoint. But when the players were featured, they told me how much it meant to them,” he said. “I had buy in because I got those guys to be proud. That’s how you get the most out of people – find out how you get them proud.”