Who said the good guys finish last?
Last night, the Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI to become the new NFL champions. In postgame interviews, Rams players and coaches shared their thoughts on what they thought contributed to a championship season. You’ve heard familiar phrases like “I knew it was a special team” and “we trusted each other to go out there and make it happen.”
But one player’s perspective on the Rams’ organizational culture stood out. It was from the Rams’ oldest player, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth — who, at 40, is the oldest active player in the NFL.
“I think it’s a unique environment,” Whitworth said in a postgame interview, speaking of the culture that Rams coach Sean Mcvay and his team have built. “We’re relaxed. We’re having fun. It’s energetic. We don’t have coaches there yelling at people. That’s not allowed on our pitch. The next shot is the next best you can have.”
Whitworth said he believed it was this environment that helped the Rams reach their full potential.
“I think the guys are coming in, they believe in it and they appreciate this opportunity to be in an environment where they are encouraged to be themselves and do what they do.”
For years, coaches of all sports have become known for their domineering, drill sergeant-like approach. But for several decades, psychologists have studied value in a completely different style of coaching, one that focuses on positive reinforcement.
I like to call this the “positive psychology rule”.
Let’s take a look at how the positive psychology rule works, how the Rams have used it to their advantage, and what companies can learn from it to build stronger, more resilient teams. (If you find value in the positive psychology rule, you might be interested in my comprehensive course on emotional intelligence. Check out the course here.)
How the Positive Psychology Rule Helps Build Stronger Teams
The rule of positive psychology is simple. It basically says:
When you create an environment of nurturing, positive reinforcement, and showcasing strengths and potential, you help people be the best version of themselves.
It was in the 1950s that psychologist Gordon Allport began to wonder why so much psychological theory focused on the behavior of sick and anxious people, and why many studies focused on criminals instead of law-abiding people. or focused on unhealthy emotions rather than healthy ones.
Since then, more and more psychologists, researchers, and therapists have begun to study examples of healthy human behaviors and the value of positive reinforcement. It’s principles like these that inform the “rule of positive psychology.”
The Rams aren’t the only professional sports team to embrace the positive psychology movement.
In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are also known for having a relaxed and fun atmosphere where music, humor and friendly competition between coaches and players help create a positive culture. It’s no surprise that these Warriors have also reached the NBA Finals five years in a row in recent years, winning three championships along the way.
But how do you respect the rule of positive psychology in your organization?
It’s easier said than done, but you can start by implementing a few more rules in your workplace. For example:
Help first rule: If you are in a difficult situation and you notice that someone else is too, try to help first. (Read more about the first aid rule here.)
The Recognition Rule: Your default setting is to focus on what a person does well and praise the person for those positive actions, sincerely and specifically. (Read more about the recognition rule here.)
The rule for turning criticism into constructive: Turn your critical comments into one word. Ask: “Can I share some constructive feedback with you?” (Learn more about how to turn critical into constructive here.)
The rule of disagreement and engagement: Start with an open and honest discussion and express healthy disagreement. However, once a decision is made, those who still disagree must “commit”; they should fully support the decision and do their best to make it work. (Learn more about the rule of disagreement and commitment here.)
The rule of reassessment: When you feel overwhelmed, don’t focus on what’s in front of you. Instead, think back to what you’ve already accomplished and use that to motivate yourself. (Read more about the revaluation rule here.)
These rules are just the beginning, to help you move in the right direction. The key is to remember that culture does not happen by chance. You need to implement processes, habits, and rules that everyone follows, top to bottom.
And the best foundation you can build on is a positive foundation.
So if you’re leading a team, why not take a page from the Rams’ playbook and follow the positive psychology rule?
Because if there’s anything Super Bowl LVI taught us, it’s that the “nice” approach may be exactly what you – and your team – need most.