Does Everyone Know Exactly What *It* Means?


Is your team on the same page?

One of my favorite sports is football and easily one of my favorite players to watch growing up was Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning was known for – and often made fun of – his constant communication at the line of scrimmage right before the play started.

He would yell “Omaha! Omaha!” or other various phrases based on what he saw from the defense. Various words shouted throughout a game made absolutely no sense to anyone except his own teammates. Sometimes Manning was communicating a change in the play, while other times it was simply a distraction to make the defense adjust.

To fans watching, it sounded like complete nonsense. But to those in the huddle with Manning, it was clear as day what their leader wanted.

It would have done Manning no good if he had simply yelled words without practicing them with his teammates that week prior. They would’ve been confused and even run the wrong route. The play would have been doomed before the ball was even snapped.

In football, disasters happen when your team struggles to communicate effectively. The same thing happens at work. And the worst part? We can be saying the same words to each and still setting ourselves up for a disaster.

Everyone may be saying the same thing, but are we on the same page about what we’re actually saying?

That’s the funny thing about words. Words can have different definitions depending on who you ask. Take for example, “discipline.”

I love asking groups what it means to be “disciplined.” Here are a few examples of what I normally hear:

  • Doing what you’re supposed to without being told.
  • Doing what needs to be done.
  • Doing what you’re told to do when you’re told to do it.
  • Doing the best without anyone watching.

Each one is similar in definition, but let’s dive into the word a little more in comparison to say the word, “obedience.”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, discipline is defined as “self-control or orderly pattern of behavior,” whereas obedience is “submissive to the restraint or command of authority.” Even though I always get the answer that discipline is doing what you’re told or supposed to do, that’s actually obedience, while discipline is the exhibition of self-control.

So what does this have to do with getting our team on the same page?

Simple. Have you ever gotten frustrated with a team member after you believed you’d told them what to do, only to find out they did it a different way or not to the level you’d expected? We all have.

There are rare instances when this isn’t the case, but the majority of breakdowns on execution come back to being on different pages on expectations. If we all have different definitions for a word like discipline, which words are we communicating internally to our team that could mean something different to each team member?

It doesn’t sound like a big deal – you think of one definition and I think of another – but it actually becomes quite problematic when you’re working to get everyone on the same page with your standards and expectations.

Think about it. You communicate expectations from your own definition, but if your employee (or employees) have a different definition of that word/expectation, then you’ve created a recipe for conflict. They’ve lived up to their expectation of the word but not yours. And the trouble begins to brew. Internal conflict arises from both parties believing they met the expectation while never realizing that each other had different definitions of that expectation.

We all have values we post on our walls, on our jobsite hard hats, and perhaps even on social media; but does everyone in our company understand WHAT those values mean in alignment with their intended definition? If not, then they don’t know what your company values are. And if they lack the knowledge of what the values are, how can they ever live up to them?

In my work with partners, one of the first exercises we do is define the words integral to our organization.

  1. What are our values?
  2. What do we specifically mean by these specific words used often?
  3. How are we reinforcing the definitions and actions of these words?

Once we get on the same page, the focus becomes on teaching and reinforcement. Teaching starts with us communicating the primary definition of the word to our team, asking that they then:

  1. Repeat that definition back to us, and
  2. Share a time when that definition was met or exceeded in the field. Give a live example of what it looks like to embody/execute this word.

The better we teach our teams what the word is, the more effective our reinforcement becomes because our foundation has already been poured. Just as sports psychologists preach when it comes to raising young athletes – the behaviors you reward become repeatable.

Where are there opportunities in our day-to-day to reward behavior that reinforces the values defined?

Each reward – even rewards as simple as verbal praise – not only reinforces the definition and importance of that action but sends a signal to other team members that does the same. You create a culture that calls out the “good” while simultaneously reinforcing the defined words.

You simply get everyone on the same page so every line of communication becomes more effective, and then you as a team’s output can be even more effective. Just like in sports, work teams that communicate effectively work more efficiently.

Would your team know what to do the next time you called an Omaha! Omaha! audible during the work day? Make sure they do.


About the Author

Jake Thompson is a performance coach and author who works with organizations to improve their productivity, leadership, and culture and build a competitive edge in the marketplace. Learn more about his work at


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