3 Tips for Inspiring the Team with No Fans


What if you were the only fan, or even worse, playing on a team with no fans?

If you are a fan of team sports, you can bet you are not alone. But, what if you were? While people are motivated by different things: money, success, recognition, status, etc., these are not the only things that will light a fire within a person. In fact, there are certain fundamental emotional needs that feed the human spirit regardless of generation, geography, nationality, or social status. The feeling of acceptance, a sense of connecting and belonging, makes the short list.

So, what happens when this is absent in the workplace, or any place for that matter?

Inspiring a Team without Fans

A few weeks ago the Gainesville State School Tornadoes, a juvenile correctional facility basketball team in North Texas, made national and international news. Apparently, this was not the first time one of their athletic teams made the sports news. The Gainesville Tornadoes have very few fans at their games when they hit the road, because all of their classmates are incarcerated. What about their family? One player who was interviewed said, “My parents came to one game, but they didn’t come to another one because they didn’t have time.” It is rare that these players receive encouragement, but recently all this changed. Two players on an opposing team announced they were not going to play against a team without fans. So, they decided to create a fan base for the Tornadoes because “No one likes to play in an empty gym,” said Ben Martinson, one of the two players who started the movement.

When the Gainesville State School basketball players entered the sports center, they had no idea what was happening. They were greeted with their names printed boldly on banners, a full fan section, and even their own cheerleading squad. As the game began, the new fans enthusiastically rooted for Gainesville. Hudson Bradley, the other student who led this effort said, “It showed me the real impact that support and encouragement can make. We all need someone to believe in us. We all need someone who knows our mistakes and loves us anyway.” On the flip side of the coin, “When I am an old man, I will still be thinking about this,” said one Gainesville Tornado player.

When the game was over, no one really cared what the final score was. They all won.

This idea of fans or no fans caused me to ponder this question: What happens to the team who has no fans – the ones who play in the empty leasing office day in and day out?  They fall under the radar, appearing almost invisible against your wall of popular top performers. They have no fans.

We can learn a lot about the power of fostering a strong sense of collective purpose from this story. Here are three things the opposing team achieved and how you can inspire the team with no fans in your company:


1. Write Your Vision into Someone Else’s Story

All businesses have a vision and goals. Unfortunately, there are often employees who are not written into the story. They don’t know it. They don’t understand it. They don’t care about it. Goals serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. They are challenges set forth to those willing to accept them.

How can you write your company vision into the personal story of your employees?

  • Introduce them to the vision/goals and make certain that they know and understand them.
  • Define a clear time-frame for when you want these goals to be reached.
  • Recognize that obstacles sometimes will get in the way.
  • Inspire and encourage.
  • Remind them that nothing worth achieving comes easy.

In the absence of these things, it can be difficult or nearly impossible to write your vision into someone else’s story. George Washington Carver once stated, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” I am not sure which is worse, having no vision or having a vision that only exists on a wall plaque.

This first lesson we can draw from this beautiful story is to encourage every employee to take the company vision and transform it into their own story or someone else’s. Either way, they can play an integral part. This is how organizations are shaped. This is how people are shaped.

2. Offer a Collective Purpose That Challenges People to Make a Difference

While we might not ever be presented with this exact scenario, there are always opportunities to take on a challenge at work. Granted, sometimes it comes with a sacrifice, but even in those stories there is a sense of accomplishment for pushing on. It is important for leaders to understand that if you want your vision to take hold, you cannot always play it safe. Sometimes you have to take bold steps – like suiting up your team, your fan base, and half of your cheerleading squad, and rooting for the competition in your company.  Initially, it might appear unfair to your team because on the organizational chart the “other guys” are NOT their responsibility. But when you demonstrate your trust and belief in the purpose, they will begin to understand they have what it takes to make it a reality and more importantly – to make a difference. Who doesn’t love to cheer for the underdog?

Winning in business does not always mean your team is in the #1 position. When necessary, it means rooting for the team down the road, the one whose numbers do not look as good as yours – the team with no cheering fans in the bleachers. A collective purpose means that everyone should share the same vision that is stamped on the corporate wall.

3. Strive to Build and Maintain Momentum

This is no doubt that something special happened to those fans as they began to cheer for the competition. They felt an emotional connection to a group of young men that in any other setting would have resulted in a response of  judgment. Clearly, the momentum was building on both sides. One team was ready to invest a personal stake into seeing the other team succeed while another was finally felt a sense of belonging and drive to succeed. Business leaders need to understand that while promoting the vision in their team, they’ll need to find those ‘cheerleaders’ who view the ‘big picture’ initiative in a positive light. These team members can not only encourage others to get on board, but these people can build momentum. Everyone on the team should feel like they have something significant to contribute to the organization’s shared vision. Everyone should feel like they belong.

There are many parallels that can be drawn from the competitive gym to the leasing office. Within the walls of every company are employees just like these young basketball players – toiling away on what might seem like an insignificant task or a hopeless journey. That is, until they are reminded of how doing their part is helping put their entire organization on the scoreboard.

Do you remember the Pygmalion effect? Rosenthal and Babad (1985) wrote: “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” Our failure to set clear expectations of our vision and goals can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy for the team with no fans.

A company is only as strong as its weakest link. No one likes to play in an empty gym. Is it time to break out the banners and cheering squad? It is time to inspire the team with no fans and help them realize that everyone matters.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

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