How Your Business Can Work Like a Football Team


Crisp fall days, the roar of the crowd, the aroma of the tailgate barbeques in the parking lot. If you can’t tell already, I am a football fanatic. I love the game, from my days playing in high school, to watching my favorite teams, to coaching and watching my two sons, I love everything about football.

So it’s little wonder that I see so many similarities between the way a great football team runs, and a great business. Football is the greatest team game, and successful businesses aren’t successful without great teamwork. Let’s look at five ways you can get your business working like the most successful football teams.

No football team, whether college or professional, gets anywhere on the field without first assembling a roster of top talent. Isaac Cheifetz, in “Hiring Secrets of the NFL”, points out that on every NFL football team, management has to know what the “true musts” of each position are. These are usually a variety of skills and behaviors. For instance, a quarterback must have great composure, awareness, and be calm under pressure. Likewise in the business world, an all-star salesperson must have great tenacity, communication skill, and professionalism.

Let’s compare the way top college and pro football teams select the talent for their roster with how your business select its talent. Professional football teams especially, put their prospective employees through exhaustive analysis and measurement in every way. They don’t just measure physical attributes, or experience but spend hours and hours interviewing candidates, their former coaches, teammates and other people with relevant input on their past behavior and performance.

How much time do you put into selecting new employees for your business? I’m sure you’re interviewing, and checking qualifications. But are you really going deep into what makes them any better or worse than other candidates. How extensive are your interviews? What assessment tools do you use to confirm your interview findings? How do you measure fit with your culture and environment?

Several years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a study on the habits of most hiring managers. They found that in large majority, over 65%, hiring decisions happened in the first 4.3 minutes of an interview. They also found that only 11% of these hires ever lasted more than 6 months with the company. Not a great track record.

Football is the greatest teamwork game. No other game that I’ve played before has been so dependent on every single player on the field. Each has to do their role exceptionally to have success. Not even the most physically gifted running back or quarterback can do well with an offensive line that takes too many plays off, or just doesn’t feel like working today.

I’ve had the good fortune of being able to coach youth football for many years, starting with kids as young as eight years old. It never fails that after the first game, the two or three players that actually moved the ball into the end zone for a touchdown immediately feel they suddenly did it all themselves. That doesn’t fly to well on my teams and they soon realize that they didn’t get there alone. Touchdowns happen because of all eleven men on the field (twelve if you play Canadian football).

How similar are our businesses? Do the salespeople who close the big sales really get there all by themselves? What about the great work being done by marketing, or the outstanding customer service representatives. And don’t forget about the production departments or engineers that create and produce the quality materials that generate great word of mouth for the sales team.

The very best football teams are those that have a lot of depth at their key positions. When a star player gets hurt, or traded, they have top quality talent all ready to step-up and take their turn being the hero.

A great example of this is the NFL’s Houston Texans. During the 2011 season, they had to cope with a season ending injury to their All-Pro quarterback. This was bad but they were fortunate to have an extremely capable second-string quarterback with lots of talent and great command of their offense. Three quarters of the way through the next game, the second-string quarterback was also lost to a season ending injury. However due to tremendous for-sight by team management, the Texans had drafted a rookie quarterback who was ideally suited to run the teams offense and they were able to not only make the playoffs for the first time, but also win the franchises first playoff game.

Your business also needs to expect who will be able to step up and fill key roles within your organization. Hopefully you won’t lose anyone to injury, but what about retirement, health issues, turnover and other changes? You can do a better job of determining what talents and skill your current employees have and how they are used in the future. Set up mentoring programs that will transfer the knowledge and experience of your key players to those who have the raw material for future success.

Strong leadership is a vital part of any successful football team. Every successful team has several key “field generals” that keep the team moving in the right direction. In fact, football teams always have a half-dozen or more captains that act as leaders on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. When I think of leaders on the football field, I think of Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Dan Marino, Mike Singletary and Warren Moon. Each of these players not only led during games but were notorious for inspiring their teammates to practice harder, study more and give their all in every situation. But never, did anyone ever outwork them. They always led by example.

Your managers and supervisors are the captains in your business. How engaged are they in the success and long-term future of your business? In fact, there are no other positions in your business that will more greatly affect the retention and development of high performing employees than managers and supervisors. People leave people not companies and your internal leaders are key to attracting and retaining the type of employees you need. As we talked earlier about recruiting, even the best recruitment efforts will be destroyed by poor leadership.

Which leads us to our last point. Outstanding football teams have powerful coaches and are constantly teaching and learning. The unexpected success of this years Super Bowl champion New York Giants shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as it seems. The Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is one of the game’s consummate teachers. He is known as someone who is completely dedicated to his players, helping them learn and develop their skill to their best ability.

How interested in our employees are we as a business owner or executive? Are we consumed with trying to help them improve their skill and ability or just going through the motions? Our key players will know. They’ll know if we are truly committed to helping them learn and develop their talents for their good, and the good of the business. Great coaches understand that it has to contain elements of both. Great leaders and managers seek a win/win approach to learning and development.

Like football, business is a team sport. The goal is to do more together than we ever could on our own and leverage the talents of employees for the benefit of customers, owners, and shareholders alike. And like football, when a team comes together in the boardroom everything becomes more fun. Hard work, long hours, pain and suffering all become an enjoyable experience out on the field with a group that you have bonded with and enjoy being with. Wouldn’t it be great if every day at work were like that too?


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