7 Team-Building Tips Your Startup Can Take from an NFL Training Camp

HILVERSUM, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 18, 2014: The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that constitutes one of the four major professional sports leagues in the USA.
HILVERSUM, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 18, 2014: The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that constitutes one of the four major professional sports leagues in the USA.

For NFL teams, the grueling quest towards a Super Bowl ring begins under the hot summer sun during training camp. It’s a time where newcomers get tested, and veterans refine their craft. But above all, training camp provides a stage for an amorphous group of over 75 individuals to transform into a cohesive unit and drive towards a shared goal: winning.

For startups and founders, winning is also predicated on team-building. In an environment where identifying the right people to add to your team can sometimes seem like trying to find a needle in a football.. ahem… haystack, nurturing that team becomes even more crucial.

And while it’s a luxury to have stars on your roster, the chemistry of your team can have just as much of an impact on winning as the individual talent – just ask Bill Belichick. Here are five takeaways from NFL training camp that startups can use to build a stronger team.

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Set Goals

If you’ve watched Hard Knocks, you know that early on in training camp the coach usually calls a meeting with the entire team and gives an impassioned speech to rally them around the journey towards the ring. This speech gives everyone in the room, no matter their standing, a common goal to work towards.

As a startup, setting goals early and often is crucial to success.  Once you’ve hired people who share similar values and passions, you need to continually stoke the flames through consistent goal setting. And they can be incremental goals: 10,000 new users by the end of Q2, a reduction in cost per acquisition, improved customer service, etc.

Having goals to follow gives you yard lines to move past as you head towards the end zone. And having visible markers/goals has proven to be a game-changer. In fact, a Harvard Business School study found that those who had written goals were 10 times more successful than their peers.

Build Trust

As “The Big Tuna”, Bill Parcells, the famed no nonsense coach puts it: “If the players don’t trust the coach it is a problem, and vice-versa.” Teams are built on trust – without it they are destined to fail. Coaches use training camp to establish a philosophy where if you do what is expected of you, the team will do right by you. On many occasions, previously unknown players have secured starting positions during camp all because the coaches put their trust in them and allowed them to succeed.

In the workplace, this is just as important. As Lazlo Block, SVP, People Operations at Google puts it: “Be transparent and honest with your people, and give them a voice in how things work. And the only way for that to happen is if you give up a little bit of your authority, giving them space to grow into it.”

Learn the Playbook

Even a novice NFL watcher knows the most challenging thing for an NFL rookie is learning the plays. No matter how high they score on the Wonderlic, a playbook can look like a binder full of hieroglyphics to a newbie. That’s where the coaches come in. Their ability to walk the team through the plays day-in and day-out allows the players to more easily absorb and remember them.

Too often in the workplace we assume that our team members have a clear enough understanding of things to make an impact. It’s easy to get caught up in our own day-to-day, but we need to force ourselves to take a step back once in a while and do a walk-through with our team to make sure that everyone is on the same page and assist those who need a little extra tutelage. Part of being a great leader is the ability to make others around you better.

Bring the Outside in to Inspire

Inspiration comes in all forms. The Dallas Cowboys recently received a dose of inspiration when Denzel Washington stopped by their training camp. Just as Coach Boone – “Remember the Titans” – surely provided an inspirational pep rally for the Cowboys, bringing the outside in to meet with your team can have the same results.

Seek entrepreneurs who’ve trekked the same journey you are undertaking to give you some words of wisdom. Look for thought leaders to share ideas you may never have thought of. Or simply bring in a guest to tell a story that provides a refreshing break from the grind.

Compete with Chemistry

The startup world can be as fierce as the gridiron. With the harsh reality that the majority of startups will ultimately fail, teams rely on their ability to compete harder and faster than everyone else. The only way to truly accomplish that is by having solid chemistry in place first. Without chemistry, goals can be disjointed and instead of competing against the competition, you’ll end up battling your own team to back on the right course.

However, some forms of competition within a team create better output. Look no further than Amazon. Just be careful not to push the competition too far. Most employees at small business and startups are entrepreneurial themselves and entrepreneurs are naturally competitive people. Create an environment where a little congenial competition gives members an incentive to perform at their best.

Take Off the Pads

Everyone needs a break. Even NFL teams give their athletes a respite from the grueling training camp practices and allow the squad to bond through off the field activities that have nothing to do with football.

Your team is probably spending an enormous amount of time indoors, hunkered in front of their screens under artificial lights, pushing themselves to the limit, and maybe even obsessing a bit too much about creating the next unicorn. It’s time to take a step back and get out.  The change of scenery will allow you to see your team members in a whole new light and give you a newfound respect for them as individuals.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of teams go into some of our events with their office hats still on and little connecting them other than the company they work for. But by the end of the event, they’re breaking out in dance together… literally.

Extra Point: Lead Like Lombardi

Working in a startup can be one of the most exciting and rewarding times in a person’s life. It can also be one of the most trying. For that reason, strong leadership goes a long way in establishing culture, aligning goals and driving innovation.

Heralded as one of the greatest coaches of all time, Vince Lombardi believed that every individual in the team – no matter their position on or off the field – is just as important as the next. The legendary sound bite machine once said, “The challenge of every organization is to build a feeling of dependence on one another because the question is not how well each person works, but how well they work together.”

 

This article was written by David Goldstein from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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