What The NFL Teaches Us About Creating a Winning Team

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Building a successful business is remarkably similar to building a winning football team. As an avid football fan and CEO, I’ve seen how both realms require a deep understanding of identity and purpose. This article explores how we can draw parallels between these two worlds to foster a purpose-driven culture in our businesses.

The parallel between business and football

Much like business, football is not just about the raw talent or resources at hand; it’s about how these elements are harnessed toward a common goal. In football, the early weeks of the season are a period of self-discovery. Teams experiment, learn their strengths and build upon them. Similarly, a business doesn’t inherently possess a culture from day one.

Related: 4 Traits of Winning NFL Teams That Work in Business

Identifying core values: The foundation of a team

In football, a team’s identity is often rooted in its core values — whether it’s resilience, teamwork or innovation. In the business world, these values are equally critical. They serve as a compass, guiding decisions and behaviors. At Viirtue, we realized the importance of aligning our corporate values with our overarching goal of simplifying technology purchases. This alignment became the cornerstone of our culture, ensuring that every team member was working towards a unified vision. Even for some who have a skill set that is extremely niché, this mindset can help them find purpose. For example, on an NFL team, there is a position called the long snapper. This player only plays a few snaps a game but can have an instant impact on the final score, either positive or negative.

Encouraging individuality – the key to a dynamic culture

One of the unique aspects of our corporate culture is the emphasis on individuality. Like a football coach who recognizes the unique strengths of each player, we believe in empowering our employees to bring their full selves to work. This approach has not only enhanced our innovation but has also created a more inclusive and dynamic work environment. Sometimes, you may have team members who confuse encouraging individuality as an excuse to not commit to the mission or to not present themselves to customers as a professional. As a leader, you must make it clear these go hand in hand. Pro sports teams often tout the mantra “look good, feel good, play good.” We have encouraged that within our team.

Mission clarity

In football, clarity of each player’s role and how it contributes to the team’s success is paramount. In the business arena, this clarity is just as crucial. My company ensures that every member understands the broader mission and how their individual efforts contribute to our collective success. This clarity fosters a sense of purpose and belonging, driving both individual and team performance. Our team members truly understand that they are at the core phase of an imminently large software company. They understand our mission is not easy, but the reward is completely worth the effort.

Building connections in a remote world

The challenge of building a cohesive culture is magnified in a remote work setting. Taking cues from sports teams, which build camaraderie through shared experiences, my company invests in regular team gatherings. These events are more than just meetings; they are a celebration of our shared journey and achievements. By flying everyone in for an annual event, we create a sense of unity and family, which is invaluable in a remote work environment.

Aligning incentives with vision

Just as a football team aligns incentives with performance and team goals, a business must ensure that its reward systems are in sync with its vision and values. My company created an incentive structure that not only rewards individual achievements but also reinforces our collective goals and values. This approach ensures that our team remains focused on what truly matters – our mission to simplify technology for our customers. When we implemented our core values, we didn’t send our team a list and make them memorize it. Instead, we created a core values contest and awarded the winner who exemplified those values monthly with an American Express gift card. This allowed us to spend time educating the team on our core values without it feeling forced.

Related: The Secrets of a Former NFL Player’s Journey to Entrepreneurship

Authenticity and sustainability

In both football and business, authenticity is key. Fans and employees alike can discern when a team or a company is not true to its stated values and mission. It essential to ensure that your culture, goals, and practices are not just a facade but also a true reflection of your beliefs and commitments. This authenticity has been central to my company’s success and resilience.

Building a purpose-driven culture in business, akin to cultivating a successful football team, is a multifaceted endeavor. It requires a deep understanding of one’s core values, a commitment to individuality and inclusivity, clarity of mission, strategic team-building, aligned incentives, and, most importantly, authenticity and sustainability. By embracing these principles, just as a well-coached football team achieves greatness on the field, a business can realize its vision, driven by a team united in purpose and passion.

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