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 coaching and watching my two sons, I love everything about football. So it’s little wonder that I see so many similarities between how an excellent football team runs and a great business. Football is the most fantastic team game, and successful businesses aren’t successful without excellent 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, an all-star salesperson must have great tenacity, communication skill, and professionalism in the business world.

Let’s compare how top college and pro football teams select the talent for their roster with how your business picks 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. Still, They 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 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 a 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 six months with the company. Not an excellent 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 coaching 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 moved the ball into the end zone for a touchdown immediately feel they suddenly did it all themselves. That doesn’t fly too 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 get there all by themselves? What about the extraordinary 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 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 a competent 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 team’s offense. They could make the playoffs for the first time and win the franchise’s first playoff game.

Your business also needs to expect who will 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 better determine what talents and skills 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. Football teams always have a half-dozen or more captains that act as leaders on both the offensive and defensive sides 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 led during games but was 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? There are no other positions in your business that will more significantly affect the retention and development of high-performing employees than managers and supervisors. People leave people, not companies, and your internal leaders are crucial to attracting and retaining the employees you need. As we talked about earlier, recruiting, even the best recruitment efforts, will be destroyed by poor leadership.

This leads us to our last point. Outstanding football teams have powerful coaches and are constantly teaching and learning. This year’s Super Bowl champion New York Giants’ unexpected success 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 wholly dedicated to his players, helping them learn and develop their skills to their best ability.

How interested in our employees are we as business owners or executives? 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 see if we are genuinely committed to assisting them in learning and developing their talents for their good and the business’s good. 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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