Home Thinking Aloud A Last-Minute Football Play Shows How Great Teams Innovate For Results

A Last-Minute Football Play Shows How Great Teams Innovate For Results


superbowl football

by Scott Levy, CEO of ResultMaps

Successful professional sports teams can be like lab experiments for business teams. And the findings from professional sports teams show that the winningest teams are disciplined, adaptable and creative and are the most fun to watch.

The kings of improvisation and innovation may be the Green Bay Packers. They can improvise to destroy competition in seconds, which sucks for a Cowboys fan, like myself, but I am not above learning from them.

In a story recounted in a recent article by Davante Adams, wide receiver for the Packers, there are some things that line right up with steps business teams can take when dealing with adversity and trying to innovate.

Time is running down; only 14 seconds left. The Packers will lose if they don’t score and they cannot stop the clock with a time-out. The conservative approach here is to stop the clock with an incomplete pass (a.k.a. “spiking the ball”). It’s the normal process in this situation but it can also increase the risk of losing.

Adams talks us through the team’s improvisation. I am bolding parts that jumped out at me:

“… Aaron walked up to the line, and everyone thought he would spike the ball…look at 50 different plays where QBs are spiking the ball… in 49 out of 50… the receivers aren’t looking at the quarterback… I never stopped looking at Aaron… Aaron is… always thinking two steps ahead… you can’t ever lose focus.

…[he]… made a little fake. Then he started sprinting my way with the ball… It wasn’t just the trust to throw me the ball. It was his trust in me that I would be ready… and respond quickly. I had to know what to do once I got the ball.

I made the catch… [checked]… the clock… If I tried to go inside and got tackled, I’d pick up extra yards but… Time would run out. If I could find the end zone, I’d be the hero. But… if my knee went down at the half-yard line, and they reviewed it?  We couldn’t challenge inside the two-minute mark… So I took a little stutter step… got the first down, then got out of bounds [to stop the clock].

This wasn’t something we had practiced before…”

This quick thinking allowed the Packers to win on the next play. The crowd goes wild and the press uses words like “magic” and “miracle.”

What I found most interesting about this successful play was that Adams’ interaction with Rodgers can be boiled down into specific team traits that perfectly align with the best teams I have seen in business:

  1. Everyone is clear on their objectives
  1. Everyone understands how success is measured.
  1. Everyone understands the “big picture” and trusts their teammates because making a play happen with a few seconds left requires everyone’s effort and understanding of the factors involved.
  1. The team is engaged and aligned.  They trust that #1 and #2 above lead to a win on #3. Because of that they have a way to calculate risks and make good decisions. Each team member stays engaged and focused when most teams are catching their breath.

These ideas are also applicable for some of the fun teams I’ve worked with:

1. Set clear goals for every team member.

Make the objectives as clear as a scoreboard and offer the simplest ways to accomplish those goals. Whether in a shared doc, a spreadsheet or another tool, record and track each team members’ progress.

2. Make sure each objective has a clear way to measure success.

Keep things as simple and easy to manage as the yards on a field, pass completions, or tackles. Break projects and objectives into something each team member can manage.

3. Triple-check that the entire understands the big picture.

This frees people them to do their best without continually asking permission. It’s worth outlining a vision, mission and your core values.  Define your areas of focus and make sure objectives fit into in those focus areas.

4. Focus on results over process.

The items above are critical there. Don’t follow a process or “best practice” at the expense of success. The only exception being safety or ethical concerns.

Some teams – in business or professional sports – simply throw together individuals. Others have a clear a sense of purpose and a level of focus that continually inspires and engages. The second kind can be a lot more fun and much more successful.

A great way to create those types of teams is to define goals, key results, a strong sense of purpose, and a clearly framed “big picture.”  Do those things, and you might pull off a few miracles of your own.


scott levy

Scott Levy loves finding ways to help teams balance strong fundamentals with radical creativity to create beautiful results.  He’s helped teams from startups to the Fortune 100 launch and manage products for 20 years.  He is currently CEO of ResultMaps, an “online concierge and app” that helps teams crush their goals.