Bill Belichick is known for going outside of the football world to draw inspiration for how the team is run. Whether it’s drawing from the military, grilling coaches from other sports, or playing an inspirational move – if there is an edge to be gained, he is open-minded. What can we learn from how the New England Patriots are run and apply in our companies?
Have a singular goal in mind
The New England Patriots are notorious for having one goal in mind: winning the Super Bowl. It is a big goal, but achievable. Every single person in the organization can tie their purpose to that goal. Whether it’s preseason workouts, staying late to review scout tape, working the salary cap or throwing on the pads late in the season after a sloppy tackling performance. On an employee-level, it gives a perfect filter for every single member of the organization to use for decisions. “Will this help us win the Super Bowl?” If the answer is “no”, they just don’t do it.
This singular focus is something companies aim for, but very few achieve because it’s really, really hard. First, pick a manageable time horizon; unless it’s a really purposeful goal that is easy for people to get behind (“we’re changing the world!”), you will have a hard time getting alignment if your end date is measured in years, not months. Give people ownership of their part of achieving the goals.Let them do their jobs. This creates shared purpose.
Talk about your goal all the time. If things don’t tie up to it, ask if those other things are worth the effort or pulling effort away from the most important thing. And lastly, if you hit your goal, celebrate it. Talk about all the little things that got you there. Highlight the adversity you overcame to hit it. Talk about your MVPs. Maybe even throw a parade … with confetti. And duckboats.
Simplify the task at hand
Belichick and his staff articulate their game plans very simply and specifically. While some teams may say things like “win in the trenches” or “score four touchdowns”, the Patriots staff chooses three to four really specific things that they think will give them the edge to win against their specific opponent. They do this for every single game. That may be “score first”, or “allow no yards after catch” or “stay in your lanes” (with a particularly shifty running back). But it is specific and measurable.
There is a lot of work required to filter down to the most important tasks to focus your efforts on to win. The higher level goals are much easier. So why bother? Breaking things into digestible parts serves a few purposes. It gives the players simple things to focus on – it gives them a job, so to speak. They don’t need to do everything, they just need to do these things to win. And because they know what others are doing, they don’t need to worry about the overall plan – just their role. You hear “Do your job!” all around the Patriots. This laser-like focus ensures you have the effort where you want it, and team accountability if you don’t hit your goals.
Fill your team with people who buy in
The Patriots have a very specific philosophy: winning above all else. That means individuals needs to buy into the system entirely or the entire system falls apart. It may mean a Pro Bowl player accepts a part time role. Or a defensive player sticks with the play call instead of taking a chance on an interception or sack because individual play makes the whole weaker.
The team has had to cut ties with players – both drafted and brought in – who weren’t able to buy into the team-first, all-business, no distraction culture because they weren’t fitting in and were undermining something very important to the organization. Similarly, they’ve brought in players known as trouble-makers or partiers who are now poster children for “The Patriot Way”. The difference isn’t talent. The difference is fitting into a culture and way of doing things to hit the goal.
Everyone has been in an organization with individuals playing by different rules than the vast majority. I suppose it can work, but it also undermines your strategy, culture and the heights your team can reach. With everyone after a team goal with a shared code on how to achieve things, you can weather the inevitable challenges without rocking your foundation to the core.
Have strong leaders … and know they aren’t always the people in charge
Your leaders are the people who buy into what you are doing, how you are doing it, why you are doing it and yell it from the rooftop and live it daily. They behave in a way you want all of your team to. This is different and distinct from people in leadership positions. The latter are your managers, directors and executives.
It is critically important that those in leadership positions also have leadership qualities. Most organizations elevate their highest performers. I would argue that it’s more important to elevate your leaders and invest in them. Yes, Tom Brady has long been one of the best players on the team, but you hear countless stories from people coming into the organization and realizing how hard he works and how much he buys into what the team is doing. That is what makes him a leader. If your top performer sees the value of running hills in the hot summer sun to improve conditioning, it’s really hard for anyone to complain too loudly and be accepted within the organization. There are plenty of teams around the league who have quarterbacks expected to lead a team, who utterly lack in leadership qualities.
Similarly, Matthew Slater has long been a captain for the Patriots. For those unfamiliar with the team, Slater plays a small, but critical role on special teams. While many would view such a role as a “demotion”, he has bought into his ability to help win the field position game, contribute to winning and dedicated himself fully to the role. Players follow his lead, despite the fact he’s not making the most money or in the flashiest role. You have these people in your organization. Retain them. Invest in them. Use them to help align your team and reinforce your message.
I’m going to get back to watching the parade, but thanks for indulging my fanaticism today!