A lot of coaches worry about their team culture and we strive to make sure everyone fits-in. We want to ensure everyone has a sense of belonging, that each dancer is included and is a good match for our team legacy and current positive culture. Or at least, that they won’t single handedly destroy our culture!

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However, I argue that if we focus on making sure everyone fits in to the team, we’re missing the point.

Why fitting in is the wrong approach

When we ask dancers to fit in and encourage a freshman to join the group and do their best to fit in, think about what we are really asking them to do. We are asking them to stop and assess the current team climate and acclimate to the group.

You’ve probably seen the new dancers on your team do this all the time. The freshman who is usually pretty goofy gets the sense that practice is serious, so she bottles up that goofy side of herself. Or the dancer who likes to high five and hug her teammates but the captain is hands-off, so the new dancer decides to back down from her instinct and fit in with the group.

We don’t want a team of one-size-fits all!

Hopefully you see the concern here. When we encourage dancers to fit in, they will take whatever is currently happening in the team climate and try to adjust their own personalities and desires to fit that culture. That means we are missing out on what makes that dancer special and we are potentially forcing them to be someone they’re not.

Focus on Belonging

Instead of trying to fit-in, we should encourage dancers to make sure everyone feels like they belong. You see, Brené Brown said it best when she said that fitting in is the opposite of belonging. When you’re trying to fit in, you look, assess, and acclimate to the group.

When you want to belong to a group, remember that you belong to yourself first. You want that person to be accepted in the group. Don’t change who you are to fit-in.

Positive team culture is much more likely when it’s founded on a sense of belonging rather than fitting in. When everyone gets to be their true self and feel like a valued member of the group. Not when everyone looks like they fit in on the surface but might be hiding who they really are. That’s the tricky part. It can look like sunshine and rainbows on the outside, but it’s a big difference if someone fits in vs. if they truly feel they belong.

Belonging Increases Motivation

This need to belong goes deeper than team culture. It’s also one of the foundations of motivation. When people feel like they truly belong on a team, they are much more motivated to work hard in difficult practices, make sacrifices, and put the team first. If motivation is a challenge on your team, it’s possible some dancers don’t feel like they truly belong. (To read more on the 3 basic needs of motivation click here).

To start, this may be as simple as a change in how you talk about team culture. Explaining the difference to your team and letting them know that it’s more important that they feel a sense of belonging over fitting in. You can ask your dancers in individual interviews if they feel like they truly belong, or ask team leaders to have an honest conversation with other team members. You can also model this by talking about how everyone has something unique and valuable to contribute and if everyone simply fit-in we wouldn’t be as strong of a team. If you have other coaches on your staff, talk about how if you all fit into one coaching style the team would miss out on the value each of you bring. Or use captains as an example of a group of different people coming together to make a stronger leadership team.

Simply having the conversation could go a long way with your team. And if nothing else, have it in the back of your mind when you think about your team culture. Are you striving to have everyone fit in on your team or do you truly value and encourage everyone to be themselves while still belonging to the team?

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