To Build a Winning Culture at Work, Learn from the Best


To find an organization who has designed a culture of winning, look no further than this year’s NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. Head Coach Steve Kerr has built the program into a powerhouse by emphasizing four core values: competition, compassion, joy, and mindfulness.

The first comes as no surprise; pro sports teams focus on thriving in the face of adversity. The second and third may raise eyebrows, since compassion and joy seem more like virtues to cultivate in one’s private life, not one’s professional life.

Much like Google discovered that empathy unlocks teams’ potential, Kerr has found that caring for one another transforms a collection of talented individuals into an effective team. Compassion makes the sum greater than the parts.

Genuine enjoyment with one’s work uplifts and motivates. The opposite is also true. Witness the abysmal performance for years of the LA Raiders, whose toxic culture is legendary.

The last, mindfulness, may come as the biggest surprise to those unfamiliar with it. Mindfulness is the means by which the team achieves joy, as it boosts happiness. It’s the way the team develops compassion and bonds with one another, as it grows emotional intelligence. It’s also how they function better under pressure, since it increases focus, enabling them to make buzzer-beater shots.

The Golden State Warriors aren’t the only ones to use mindfulness to create success. While coaching the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson brought in sports consultant George Mumford to teach his athletes how to be more mindful. In The Mindful Athlete, Mumford describes how mindfulness united the team after Michael Jordan returned from his stint playing baseball, overcoming hurt feelings and helping teammates adjust to one another.

A key to applying mindfulness to transform culture is to imbed mindfulness into daily practice. The Golden State Warriors strive to achieve each of their core values every day; that means incorporating practicing these values into their workouts.

Too many corporate initiatives strive to transform culture with the most superficial of approaches. The company brings in a dynamic speaker for an hour or two and passes out posters on how to accomplish the goals laid out in the speech.

A month passes. The demands of the day have taken over, and hardly anyone remembers the latest initiative, much less takes the time to apply what was talked about. The status quo abides.

Transforming culture takes time and effort. The payoff is immense, though. If leadership follows Steve Kerr’s example and has the courage and vision to avoid short-termism, organizations can build more enjoyable cultures that win.