Leadership and Team Building: Lessons From Watching Football

Football is my favorite sport and I look forward to this time of year when I can watch my favorite college team (The Ohio State Buckeyes) as well as the many professional teams I like to watch. I enjoy watching football for the hard-hitting tackles, QB sacks, amazing running plays, unbelievable catches and the complete package of excitement a game presents.

I also realized there are several leadership and team building lessons we can learn from watching football.

1. Every Player Has a Position and Knows What Their Role is on the Team

Does your workplace team define the roles and functions of each team player? In football, each player on the team has a position (i.e. linebacker, running back) and he knows what he is supposed to do. Also, there are rules about what each position is allowed to do and not allowed to do. It is very clear to everyone on the field where they can line up and what they are supposed to do. Imagine if each player didn’t know what they were supposed to do? What a mess! Your team members need to clearly understand their position on the team and the responsibilities that go along with that role. Otherwise, it will just be a group of people running around trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do.

2. The Quarterback is the Team Leader…

He is the guy who sets the tone for the team. Are they wild and crazy? Silent and disciplined? Everyone on the team looks to him to know what the next step is, how to perform and what the expectations are for everyone playing with him. He calls the plays and everyone follows. He is the person everyone on the team looks to for vision, leadership and the game winning drive. Your leader needs to build team trust by setting the expectations for the team and then living up to them. Team members will follow the example set the their leader.

3. But, the QB Still Needs to Answer to the Coach (and team owner in the pros)

Even the QB has a boss. Your team leader also has a boss whether it’s a Board of Directors, CEO or other senior leader in the company. If the QB throws an interception, changes the play or does something else that costs the team the chance to score, he needs to be able to identify what happened and tell the Coach how he is going to fix it. The QB also needs to take responsibility for what happened and explain to his boss and the rest of his team what’s going to be better or different next time. It’s important for your team leader to admit when something doesn’t work as planned and then describe the changes necessary to be successful the next time.

4. Each Member Understands the Team Playbook and Signal Calling

Every team member is responsible for knowing the playbook and the signals the QB uses. Occasionally you’ll see a player run the wrong play because he was confused on the play or didn’t understand/hear the signal being called. This usually results in a busted play or, at worst, a turnover. Your team members should have a clear understanding of what your team’s “playbook” consists of regarding team expectations, “rules” for the team, communication skills amongst team members, etc. When your team leader tells you something, do you really understand what he/she means?

5. Every Member on the Team is Vitally Important

Sure, the QB, wide receiver or running back usually get the most attention but they aren’t the only players on the field. They would be far less effective and unable to do their jobs without the guards, fullback, tackles, center, etc. Who’s going to block for the running back without the fullback? Who’s going to snap the ball to the QB if it’s not the center? The other players might not get much attention, but they play an important role in the success of the team and everyone understands their importance. They deserve to be equally recognized for their valuable contributions. Do the members on your team feel important to the success of the team? Or do they feel undervalued and underutilized?

Successful football teams are like high functioning teams: they don’t just happen. They take hard work, dedication, lots of practice, good communication skills, a commitment to excellence and strong leadership. So the next time you’re watching your favorite team play, look for the ways they are exhibiting (or not) these behaviors. And let me know what other ways you think a football team shows leadership and team building skills.