I watch and love NFL football. Even with so much effort for parity in the league, there clearly are those top-tier teams and seemingly perpetual basement dwellers. While salary caps, schedules, team size and draft picks are established to make teams more equal, there are still clear favorites. Of course, any team can beat another team on Sunday—some games are pretty predictable.

Every player in the NFL is good, really good. In fact, exceptional is probably more accurate. They did not get to the NFL unless they had talent. The degree of separation of talent between all NFL players is pretty small. I was fortunate enough to play with two players that made it to the NFL. One appeared in a Super Bowl with the Cincinnati Bengals and the other was with the Detroit Lions and then the Pittsburg Steelers. I had NFL dreams, a little thing called “talent” just got in the way.

Talent is a must in the NFL but team success is much more than simply picking the bigger or faster players. Coaches and general managers must find a way to be a team, a way to bring out the best of each player and work as a team; then form a plan to exploit each player’s talents.  This means coaching and management may have the biggest role to a team’s success.

Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, can seem to win with whomever he puts on the field. Conversely, we have teams who can’t win with a rooster full of top draft picks. The coach is key, as he organizes talent, optimizes player’s performances and minimizes weaknesses. This is where team work comes in and why coaches like Landry, Carrol, Madden and Ditka can take a group of good players into a team that makes the playoffs again and again. All talk team but some never get the team concept. Your construction crew may be similar.

Creating Your Lineup

Running a plastering crew of eleven reminded me of my football days. This was especially true in the union environment where each journeyman had equal pay. I had to watch and get to know my crew—who fit in and who didn’t. I had to find their individual skill set, where they excelled and where they might fall short. Picking and putting the right person in the right place became critical to success.

A few years ago, my boss had to rate me on a scale of one to ten on various skill sets: he gave me fives across the board. When he was asked why no high or lows, he replied because he did not know if I was good at the listed skills. Whose fault is that?

I know the people I supervised. I know their strengths and weaknesses. A good manager must know his people; a great manger optimizes his people to make a winning team. Managers that dislike teams or prefer the term boss are unlikely to be good team leaders. When I interview foreman or supervisors, I listened to hear if they preferred solo sports or team sports. I find people that team sports tend to make better supervisors.

My old football coach sent several players to the NFL. What made him even more impressive was he would routinely turn poor football programs into winning programs. He noted a person’s talents; he put them in a position for the team’s success. He knew how to put the right person in the right place. My senior year he moved me to what was called the rover position. I played defensive back and did not want to be this linebacker defensive back hybrid. I was also defensive team captain. I never thought of myself as defensive guru, but I called the stunts and pass coverages. 

Years later, I had the chance to ask why he moved me. He said it was because of a talent I had to move laterally and react quickly. He went on to explain the other guys believed in me. You made them a team as you had their back. I was feeling pretty good when he continued with “... that quality outweighed your inability to call correct coverages and blitzes packages.” I laughed. He didn’t.

Construction too often fails to grasp the team work concept. This is one reason piece-work tends to be problematic; each person is out for themselves rather than the team. Piece-work seems the most equitable method, but apprenticeship dwindles, quality suffers as each worker is forced to watch their back from others who would just as soon put a knife in it.

For quality work and maximum production, maybe we should be more like an NFL winning team and know our people to be a real team. If you disagree, your competitor, like Bill Belichick, will be happy; they will take an easy victory any day.