I have been a CrossFit gym owner for four years now. Not as long as some, but much longer than others. And over the course of these four years, my little gym has gone through some massive changes. Some of which I was ready for and others that totally blindsided me. What started as a few crazies working out in my buddy Caleb’s garage has evolved into a massive organization with a large staff and multiple moving parts.
This week I came across Larry Osbourne’s book, “Sticky Teams.” It’s fun when someone else puts my experience into words, and I’d like to share a little of that here. He compares leading the growing organization through its growth to the athlete adjusting to different sports, each having their own rules, relationships and responsibilities. If our gyms are sports, we can compare our staff teams to track stars for some, others to golf buddies, some to basketball teams and finally, to football teams.
The track star is the solo entrepreneur. He or she may work out with others, but they perform alone. Success or failure is ultimately in their hands, and they like it that way. They love the freedom and independence to run things exactly the way they want. They’re not overly concerned with having a huge bank account; instead they just want to impact people, make a living and have fun doing it.
It’s not likely that the track star gym will last long. Exhaustion, loneliness and bills tend to push this gym owner to either go find help, or shut down. With little reward, what started as a hobby business, quickly becomes a burden.
Golf is a relationship focused sport. It’s most fun when you go with friends, and most of the time, even golfers of dramatically different skill levels can still have an enjoyable outing together. For the highly relational gym owner, a small staff team works best. Meetings can generally be impromptu and informal. Collaboration is simple with few moving parts, and decisions are made quickly and easily. The complexity is low, and the fun is high. After a gym moves away from this stage, the owners and members who were there tend to remember back to this time as the “good ole’ days where we didn’t have money, but things were easy and fun.”
When the staff team grows larger, those relationships become more complex and specialized. The team begins to resemble something more like a basketball team than a group of golfing buddies. The owner shifts more into a “coach” role and steps back from some of the “on the court” work so that the team can function better. Team members have to specialize in the same way that the center usually doesn’t play point guard. Everyone is still required to participate as a single unit, but each team member brings their own unique skill set to the team. Specialization is beginning to emerge as some Coaches excel more with the barbell, while others are better at teaching gymnastics. Some are great leading large groups, while others thrive with personal training.
The complexity of this stage is much greater than that of the “golf buddy” stage, and many leaders struggle here. They have to be much more organized and formal than before. Things take longer and team unity takes effort. But the payoff tends to be bigger as well.
At some point the team can grow too large to be accurately described as a team and develops more into something of a “team of teams,” similar to a football team. A football team is so large that it’s broken down into sub groups like offense, defense and special teams. Even from there the breakdown can be even more diverse as the offense can be broken down into the unique skill positions. There’s the linemen, quarterbacks, receivers and running backs, each with their own unique requirements. Each player is expected to play their role for the collaborative good of the team, but they don’t all always work together.
Leading a “football team” sized gym takes a special kind of leader. They can’t be overly concerned with being friends with everyone on their staff. Instead, they want to find driven, trustworthy and aligned leaders who can manage the different areas under their supervision with excellence. The leader is responsible for defining the direction of the gym and guiding the leaders of the sub-teams toward that vision. With a staff this huge, the expenses skyrocket, and so can the headaches, but the bottom line can be equally as huge.
Quick side note: I’ve seen many gyms outgrow their leader’s ability to cope, and even though there’s more money coming in, the expenses of a giant team keep the company from actually turning a profit. It can work well, but there’s a reason that one-third of all coaches in the NFL get fired every year.
I think it’s important to say that there is no rule that says that everyone must push their gym to become a “football team.” It may be that you, as a leader, are best suited to be a “basketball team” or a “golf buddy” or even a “track star.” It’s up to you to determine what is best for your gym, and what lines up with your goals the best. However, it would be foolish and nearly impossible to attempt to manage a “football team” staff like you did when you were “golf buddies.” The wise gym owner will adjust to the sport they’re playing!
Reference: “Sticky Teams” by Larry Osborne. Zondervan 2010 Pages 64-66