What the NFL teaches us about building a winning team

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Building a successful business is a lot like building a winning football team. As an avid soccer fan and CEO, I have seen how both fields 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

Just like business, football isn’t just about raw talent or resources at hand; it’s about how these elements are leveraged towards a common goal. In football, the first few weeks of the season are a time of self-discovery. Teams experiment, learn their strengths and build on them. Likewise, a company does not inherently have a culture from day one.

Related: 4 Characteristics of Winning NFL Teams Who Work in Business

Identify core values: the foundation of a team

In football, a team’s identity is often rooted in its core values, be it resilience, teamwork or innovation. In the business world, these values ​​are equally critical. They act as a compass, guiding decisions and behaviors. At Viirtue, we realized the importance of aligning our corporate values ​​with our overall 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 extremely niche skills, this mindset can help them find purpose. For example, on an NFL team, there is a position called a long snapper. This player only plays a few moments per game but can have an immediate impact on the final score, both positive and negative.

Encouraging individuality: the key to a dynamic culture

One of the unique aspects of our company 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 best selves to work. This approach has not only improved our innovation, but also created a more inclusive and dynamic working environment. Sometimes, you may have team members who mistake the encouragement of individuality as an excuse for not committing to the mission or not presenting themselves to clients as professionals. As a leader, you need to make it clear that these go hand in hand. Professional sports teams often repeat the mantra “look good, feel good, play good.” We have encouraged this within our team.

Clarity of mission

In football, clarity on each player’s role and how they contribute to the team’s success is crucial. In the business arena, this clarity is equally crucial. My company ensures that each member understands the larger 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 stage of an upcoming large software company. They understand that 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 amplified in a remote work context. Taking inspiration from sports teams, which build camaraderie through shared experiences, my company invests in regular team meetings. These events are more than just meetings; they are a celebration of our shared journey and our 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.

Align incentives with vision

Just as a football team aligns incentives with team performance and goals, a company must ensure its reward systems are in tune with its vision and values. My company has created an incentive structure that not only rewards individual achievement but also reinforces our collective goals and values. This approach ensures that our team stays focused on what really matters: our mission to simplify technology for our customers. When we implemented our core values, we didn’t send our team a list and force them to memorize it. Instead, we created a contest around core values ​​and rewarded the winner who exemplified those values ​​with an American Express gift card on a monthly basis. This allowed us to take the time to educate the team on our core values ​​without feeling forced.

Related: Secrets of a former NFL player’s journey to entrepreneurship

Authenticity and sustainability

In both football and business, authenticity is key. Both fans and employees can discern when a team or company is not true to its stated values ​​and mission. It is essential to ensure that your culture, goals and practices are not just a façade but also a true reflection of your beliefs and commitments. This authenticity has been critical to the success and resilience of my company.

Building a goal-oriented corporate culture, similar to cultivating a successful football team, is a multi-faceted undertaking. It requires a deep understanding of your core values, a commitment to individuality and inclusiveness, clarity of mission, strategic team building, aligned incentives and, above all, authenticity and sustainability. By embracing these principles, just as a well-coached soccer team achieves success on the field, a company can realize its vision, guided by a team united in purpose and passion.

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