Great Organizations Do Small Things Well

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well — Find the Long Snapper

I have been thinking about what do great organizations do that differentiate them from good organizations, and there are a number of things. But one that sticks out to me is that great organizations do small things very well. Let me give you an example that I observed while watching the end of the 2016 college football season.

By any measure you would have to accept that the University of Alabama football team is successful at what they do despite losing in the NCAA football championships to Clemson University earlier this year. The Crimson Tide have won 16 national championships including four in the last eight years. They have made more bowl appearances (64) than any other team in NCAA history. Alabama has won 30 conference titles and had 11 undefeated seasons. Currently, there are 24 committed recruits to the Alabama football program in 2017. Five are ranked number one in the nation at their position, including Thomas Fletcher from Washington State. Thomas graduated from the prestigious IMG Academy and is a long snapper. [1]

Now for those of you who may not be football aficionados, a long snapper is a center who only snaps the ball on punts. This means he will likely only be on the field for seven or eight plays per game. But those plays are often crucial. Place kickers have gotten better and now may attempt field goals from well over forty yards. Consequently, punts normally occur when a team remains in their own territory. A badly handled snap can result in disaster. The long snapper must snap the ball between his legs and send it approximately fifteen yards in 0.75 seconds. He must do this accurately and repeatedly during some of the most pressure packed moments of a football game. Furthermore, he knows that as soon as he snaps the ball he is going to be hit by at least one (if not more) 300 pound defensive lineman.

After years of success, clearly Alabama’s head football coach is leaving little to chance and will consistently bring in the best players he can. But many Division 1 teams still rely on a walk-on or fourth string player who is still learning to become their long snapper. But Saban wants to insure that his organization has every advantage as they confront their competition — and all leaders can take a lesson from this. This is not encouragement to micro-manage but rather the need for successful leaders to try and “see around corners,” think a little out of the box, and encourage their team members by their actions to be thorough and relentless in the pursuit of perfection in what each does for the overall success of the team. If the leader stresses the need to “find the long snapper” then the entire team will focus on what are the small things that can potentially make a difference.

If you still find this unconvincing, consider the following: Where did Nick Saban acquire his relentless focus on insuring his team did small things well?  He was mentored by a master, Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. Saban worked under Belichick from 1991 to 1994. Last year Belichick stunned many in the NFL when the Patriots selected a long snapper in the fifth round of the NFL draft. 

But if you’re still not buying this idea, I suggest you simply call the Atlanta Falcons and ask them their opinion.

-Dr. Jeff McCausland

[1] Sam Borden, “An Upside-Down Priority”, New York Times, December 26, 2016, p. D1.

Three Steps to Leading Effective Teams

Picture this: your boss is on a “teams” kick.  It seems as though everyone in the organization has been scheduled for surgery to conjoin hips. For awhile, the staff wonders, “why didn’t we do this before?” But then reality sets in: dysfunctional conflict erupts, goals are not being met, members “miss” meetings, and people yearn for the days when decisions could be made without having to run everything by “the committee”…

Two relevant articles on “Teams” and “Strategic Foresight” recently appeared in the Diamond 6 newsletter; I hope you read both. A primary reason organizations fail to unlock the potential of the people in the organization is because those who should be leading see the latest “fad” and without strategic foresight, attempt to employ the latest craze assuming all will be well. Too many of those who should be leaders take a stab at doing something, anything!, to make the organization more effective; teams are a common approach.  But teams are not a panacea – they are one of many tools leaders can employ to improve operations, if employed appropriately. Here’s a “prescription” that should accomplish multiple goals, including reducing the “burnout” felt by the people in your teams:

  • Adopt a “continuous improvement” mindset – no organization is perfect, but that shouldn’t keep us from pursuing perfection.
  • Become a “learning organization” – one of the key tenets we promote in our quest to help unlock the potential of people in organizations is the understanding that as humans, we are prone to make mistakes. When a mishap occurs, too many bosses jump to the “punishment” phase without carefully exploring why the mistake took place. Many of these problems involve organizational constraints or failures to adequately train and equip those whom we have tasked to accomplish our mission.
  • Employ the proper techniques to meet the needs of your situation – “teams” is one of these. When used properly, teams can spark an explosion in productivity.  The first concern: how will you know you have truly employed a team?

During my initial foray into the workings of an organization I usually find “groups”, not “teams”. The difference in results is stark.  Although there are numerous distinctions that can be argued, two primary items required for teams to be functional (and avoid collaboration burnout!) are accountability and effectiveness. We all know that what gets measured gets done. Using metrics to establish your goals and serve as your “yardstick” is only a starting point.  Although objective items are easier to measure (e.g., increased sales), subjective measures must also be employed (e.g., how well is the team “working”?). To grow, team members must be open to ideas for improvement. An essential item is the one most of us abhor: the fear of receiving feedback that is anything but complimentary. It can be virtually paralyzing in an environment that lacks trust.  Employing the 3 steps outlined above is a good starting point to establishing trust. Add in a strong measure of respect – for and from each member of the organization. It will go a long way toward building an environment within which teams can thrive. An example of respect is the right of refusal – an incredibly important topic we will explore in a future article where we will also discuss additional ways to avoid “burnout”.

The initial keys: ensure you have taken the time to develop your Strategic Foresight; communicate that vision to the people in your organization; employ the 3 tenets of an effective organization (i.e., focus on continuous improvement, become a learning organization, and employ the proper tools to meet the needs of the organization); establish an environment of trust and respect for all members of the organization; reap the rewards; and celebrate victories. If we show people the fruits of their labors and the effect their efforts have on the organization, they will be more likely to “move on” to the next target with vigor and a desire to accomplish even the most difficult mission.

People who are challenged and rewarded will be glad to take a break at the end of the week but will also look forward to showing up on Monday…make that a goal.

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Ken Pasch is President of the leader development company Ki (pronounced “key”) Visions and author of “Become the Boss You Always Wanted”.  Ki Visions and Diamond 6 work collaboratively.  The full Ki Visions lineup includes: coaching, consulting, keynotes, and training.  Ken also teaches at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State.  Ken’s primary purpose: helping good people…become great leaders!
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