5 Lessons Learning the Hard Way from NFL Teams and Coaches

We often like to look for lessons learning the hard way in areas outside our normal areas of expertise and then draw analogies. We like to draw many different analogies, as different perspectives help our thinking. What about you? Here is an article created by looking at our favorite sport from a different view.

Check out our thoughts on team leverage.


The NFL has recently gone through its annual purging of disappointing coaches. Already, we have seen close to a record lose their jobs because their teams failed to perform at an expected level. While it might not be so obvious on the surface, there are compelling similarities between business organizations and the NFL (not so surprising, is it?).


While replaced coaches race to update their resumes, I believe all business leaders can learn these five key lessons from their failures.

Related post: 9 Secrets to the Chipotle Culture and Employee Engagement Success



Team motivation

Consistent among this year’s unsuccessful teams and coaches is their lack of ability to motivate the team. Some coaches have gone down on record as saying it is not their job to motivate the team, noting that NFL players are high-paid professionals and should be intrinsically motivated. While that is logical, it simply is not true.


The situation is the same in our business organizations: Motivation is critical. We are often faced with tight timelines, shifting priorities, changing goals and diverse teams. A paycheck is simply insufficient to motivate a team to excel. Talented people prefer organizations where they are recognized have a clear understanding of their role and work with others that are held accountable for peak performance.


Inspiring a team is more difficult than it sounds. All team members should have a clear understanding of goals, roles, strategies and tactics. Successful team members need to be praised. Wins, even small ones, while expected, still need to be celebrated. Most importantly, this effort must be sustained. It’s easy to keep it up for a month or two, but championship teams have it wired into their DNA.


clubhouse leaders
Do you know your clubhouse leaders?

Selecting clubhouse leaders

Strategy and skill are not the only makings of championship NFL teams. Culture is critical to success. The mood of an NFL locker room can make or break a season. Coaches make tough decisions that are frequently unpopular. To help with positive energy both on the field and in the locker room, great NFL teams leverage captains and de facto leaders to maintain the team’s ethos.


Likewise, businesses are incredibly social and have many areas that are similar to the locker room, including meetings, briefings and email. This free-flowing communication has the ability to make or break a team much like a locker room. Like NFL teams, great organizations need to foster leadership among the team, not just from the top executives. This is successfully accomplished through a leadership team that is formally designated, trained and cultivated.



Learning the hard way … playing as a team

Most NFL teams are stronger in either offense or defense but rarely in both. Teams can win with silos, but championship teams get their offense and defense to work together and strengthen each other by sharing knowledge.


When leaders focus excessively on one silo rather than develop processes that break down walls, organizations and their leaders fail. More than ever, it is critical for organizations to develop synergies across team members. Tools and technologies have blurred historical departmental definitions and teams can no longer operate in silos.


good decisions
Are leaders making good decisions?

Lesson learned the hard way … making good decisions

With the advent of advanced statistical analysis, the NFL is currently going through many of the changes experienced by Major League Baseball … more decisions based on statistics and probabilities and less based on emotions. One of the changes taking place based on this statistical analysis is that teams recognize that going for it is frequently a smarter maneuver than automatically punting when facing fourth down.


Like NFL teams, organizations also have a vast amount of statistics and new technologies available to help them make informed decisions. We need to learn when to go for it on fourth down by implementing high return technologies and when to punt on an opportunity to reduce risk. Like NFL teams, statistical analysis is a powerful tool for identifying opportunities that will impact the bottom line. Analysis takes time, patience and a willingness to embrace the mathematical aspects of decision making, but it often is the difference between a major win and a major loss.



Learning the hard way … master special teams

NFL coaches come through the ranks as an expert in one specific discipline, typically offense or defense. They all initially focused on a more granular skill-set, such as linebacker or quarterback. Many of the recently failed coaches and teams failed to become true generalists — experts in offense, defense and special teams.

Related post: Competitive Growth Strategy … the Story of In-N-Out Burger


The same is true of our business organizations. Leaders must be competent in virtually all facets of the business and their interrelationships. The discipline that got you to where you are is probably antithetical to what is critical for your organization’s success going forward.  The key for leaders is to become a generalist; to have a solid understanding of a broad range of skills and disciplines.



Key Takeaways

Don’t let what you know … limit what you can imagine or maybe even dream. Confidence never comes from having all the answers. It comes from being prepared for, and open to, new ideas and questions. Prepare your mind for new ways of thinking. Only then will you take advantage of all the business lessons learned.


content writer


So what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion. There is only the next step. And that next step is entirely up to you.


 It’s up to you to keep improving your continuous learning. Lessons are all around you. In many situations, your competitor may be providing the ideas and or inspiration. But the key is in knowing that it is within you already.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that struggle gets better every day you learn and apply new lessons.


When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.


 Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.


 Are you devoting enough energy to improving your continuous learning for yourself and your team?


 Do you have a lesson about making your lifelong learning better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?


 Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.


More reading on business challenges from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:

Adaptation … 5 Awesome Business Examples for Study

6 Ways Biases Destroy Decision Making Results

How to Change the World … 9 Amazing Ways


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5 Lessons Learning the Hard Way from NFL Teams and Coaches