• Edwin and George

Creating a Winning (and ethical) Culture: The Secret Sauce

Updated: Mar 12


Michael Phelps is an American retired competitive swimmer and the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. The guy was made for his sport: his arms span 6 feet 7 inches (201 cm)—disproportionate to his height of 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) - and act as long, propulsive paddles; his relatively short legs lower drag, and perhaps add the speed enhancement of a hydrofoil; his size-14 feet provide the effect of flippers; and his hypermobile ankles can extend beyond the pointe of a ballet dancer, enabling him to whip his feet as if they were fins for maximum thrust through the water.


Phelps competed in an individual sport and was so successful. It got me thinking about my new sport rugby union and what makes teams win. The rugby union team I play in have a mix of sizes and attributes – 15 different positions who all contribute to a win. The 4 key areas we’ve identified that lead to success are:


  • Individual talent and skill

  • Team cohesion (training)

  • Team strength

  • Individual fitness


As you can see – a mixture of team and individual attributes. It got us thinking about the similar application to a workplace.


Michael Mankins wrote about the “secret sauce” of a winning culture.

He writes that culture is more than just a unique identity, however. The best performing companies typically display a set of performance attributes that align with the company’s strategy and reinforce the right employee behaviors. His research revealed seven of these:

  • Honest. There is high integrity in all interactions, with employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders;

  • Performance-focused. Rewards, development, and other talent-management practices are in sync with the underlying drivers of performance;

  • Accountable and owner-like. Roles, responsibilities, and authority all reinforce ownership over work and results;

  • Collaborative. There’s a recognition that the best ideas come from the exchange and sharing of ideas between individuals and teams;

  • Agile and adaptive. The organization is able to turn on a dime when necessary and adapt to changes in the external environment;

  • Innovative. Employees push the envelope in terms of new ways of thinking; and

  • Oriented toward winning. There is strong ambition focused on objective measures of success, either versus the competition or against some absolute standard of excellence.


Getting the perfect blend of natural-born winners working hard to collaborate in a team together is obviously the ideal.


It comes down to having a great culture: an awesome bunch of people who identify with the company’s purpose but most importantly display the right sort of ethics and behaviours. This means calling out bad behaviours when they happen and putting the team first.

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