The Quickest Way to Transform Team Culture

By Stephanie Zonars

Most leaders talk to their teams about positivity and the importance of bringing positive attitudes and energy each day.

But many do it with a scowl on their face.

You’re probably aware that communication is only 7% the words you speak while a whopping 55% is body language. (editor’s note: remaining 38% is tone)

That’s why it doesn’t work to scowl and encourage people to be positive at the same time. Your face isn’t communicating positivity. It’s sending the opposite message—that you’re angry, frustrated or annoyed!

Most of us have poor self-awareness about our body language. We just don’t realize how we come across unless trusted friends, colleagues or even players tell us.

During a team building session I facilitated a few years back, the players told their head coach that when she rolled her eyes it caused them to shut down. Although she knew that she rolled her eyes, she didn’t realize how often or the extent of the impact. That single action resulted in a loss of team confidence and trust.

Just as one negative behavior dismantles confidence and trust, one positive behavior can build them.

It won’t cost you a penny.

And it is so easy you probably don’t really think it will make any difference at all.


That’s it. Just smile more.

A number of years ago, a coaching friend told me she started to practice smiling more and was amazed at the impact it had on her team. They thought she was up to something and kept asking “Coach, why are you smiling?”

She had no idea how much her countenance communicated to her team until she made this change.

Like this coach, smiling does not come naturally to me. My temperament is more serious (if I only had a nickel for the number of times I’ve been told to “lighten up” or “relax”) and I have to literally remind myself to smile.

Just yesterday I reminded myself to smile at the guy serving me at Chipotle and noticed a distinct difference in how he interacted with me before and after the smile.

I’m not advocating that you smile at inappropriate times (like the lady at the funeral home who smiled throughout a meeting with my family the afternoon my dad passed away. Not cool.)

But a smile at the right time can change everything.—Tweet That!

A smile in the huddle at a crucial moment in the game relaxes your players.

A smile toward ushers, security guards or others who serve you and your team communicates approachability.

A smile when you’re on the phone with a recruit can be “heard” and brings a friendly tone to the conversation.

I challenge you to try one of these experiments (email and let me know which one you’re doing):

  1. For the rest of this week, work on smiling more. Put some reminders up in places where you’ll see them—just a little post it note with SMILE on it.
  2. Ask your colleagues and/or players for honest feedback on your body language. If you don’t think they’ll tell you to your face, give them index cards and have them write it anonymously.

Then, shoot me an email on Friday and let me know what you learned and how this simple exercise made a positive difference on your team!


The Quickest Way to Transform Team Culture appeared first on LifeBeyondSport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at

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