The Business of Team Chemistry

As the season of free agency and the draft unfolds, NFL fans watch the news for signs of hope that someone will be arriving to help their team turn the corner, bring the final piece of the puzzle to the board or rescue their teams from the oblivion of a losing season. Of course, all of us believe that there is someone "out there" who is going to come in and bring the team to the next level.

“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.”- Washington Irving (1783 - 1859)

Lost in the midst of poison pills and the recent history of Super Bowl losers not coming back is a reasonable discussion of why things are looking good for the Seahawks and the upcoming season. I want to focus not upon the talent on the field but upon the qualities and values of the organization that create a foundation for great things to happen.

An issue that is not often examined in depth is the issue of team chemistry. Team chemistry (or sometimes “team culture”) involves intrinsic and intangible qualities that are not easily measured and thus it is rarely studied. One given, however, is the fact that the intangibles or intrinsic qualities of leadership have to start at the top of the organization. There is an old saying that "s#!t rolls downhill." You can have all the measurables in place - and still not produce a winner. Tim Ruskell has said that “great defenses begin with the front seven.”

I’m suggesting that great teams have a great front office.

Team Chemistry involves commitment to the right things. Many of us are General Manager “wannabees”. But one doesn’t have to look too far to understand that while statistics don’t lie, they don’t always tell the whole truth. When I play my kid’s copy of “Madden 2005” I love to have Terrell Owens on my team. He runs the routes, beats the DBs, makes the catches and always scores a bunch. But “Madden” and “fantasy football” don’t deal with the TO that whines, argues with coaches, complains to the media, spits in a quarterback’s face and who, in general becomes a festering sore that threatens the health of the entire organization. As Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, has discovered, you can buy the talent - but you can’t always buy a winner.

In organizations, if there is a commitment to creating an environment that values hard work, intelligent and creative thinking on the part of its workforce while rejecting bad behavior and complaining - you move into a different realm. Major organizations don't want to hear complaints from their staff without solutions or ideas to rectify the issues the complaints address. I have worked in organizations on both sides of the spectrum and, believe me, I really like being on the "solution" side.

NOTE: it doesn't mean that top flight organizations do not encounter difficulties, crisis, or problems. It is how they chose to address the issue that makes the difference.

Now, why do I think that the Seahawks are in good shape?

1. I, for one, believe that the Hawks bargained in good faith with Steve Hutchinson and his agent. They told him that they would let HIM set the market and that they expected HIM to let them match the same. This is a very fair way of operating. They gave Hutch the opportunity to go out and shop himself. They admitted that the market is changing and that they were unsure about what the price should be. I don't fault the Hawks for putting the transition tag on Hutch. Remember, Ruskell and company set forth their values and commitment to be fair with a player they sign. That gets the attention of others who want to be treated fairly. When it became apparent that Hutch and his agent had not operated under the same principle, and that they were going to lose the hearing - they let Hutchinson go and chose to operate according to their principles rather than compromising them. That is a key mark of a great organization.

2. The Seahawks - through Ruskell - have made a commitment to sign players who have a strong work ethic and who "play smart" rather than those who play "crazy". They want players whose hearts and heads are lined up with the corporate value that says, "I will do what is necessary for the team to be successful at the expense of my own personal goals." That isn't to say that personal goals are not important. It means that they are looking for players whose personal goals are lined up with the goals the organization is seeking to accomplish.

Example: there is a world of difference between the personal goal of a running back who wants to produce 2000 yards and 30 touchdowns and a quarterback who wants to be a ten million dollar a year player. The question that the staff at the Vikings had to consider with Culpepper was just that. Culpepper had the chance to say that he wanted to win a Super Bowl with his TEAM and he chose to focus upon his own goal of making the money, instead. Shaun Alexander may need some work on his relationship with his O-line, (I may be wrong on that) but by working toward his goals, he improves the chances of his TEAM achieving their goal. He knows that the money will come if he meets his goals - that is the way the NFL works - he did not create that environment, he is working within the overall NFL corporate culture. He is working smart.

3. Doing the homework. This organization does its homework by looking at more than the numbers. They are not in "fantasy football" mode. They ask the right questions about players such as; "Is this player going to fit our style of play?" "Is this player capable of keeping himself out of trouble?" "Does this player want to showcase his skills or does he want to be part of an organization that will use him according to a bigger plan?" "Is this player willing to learn and grow in his skills and is coachable?" "Does this person demonstrate the intrinsic ability to play beyond his numbers?" and "Is this player going to be patient?"

4. The next quality involves how the organization responds to crisis. The Hutch issue is a crisis of sorts. Over-reaction is a sign of immaturity in an organization. Immature organizations panic and make adjustments that they would not make under other circumstances. The question a mature organization asks itself is this, "What resources do we already have in place to deal with this situation?" The Hawks demonstrated the ability to respond when Ken Hamlin went down last year. They did not panic. They asked other players to step up their play a notch and the players responded. This demonstrates trust and smart, mature players respond.

5. They aren’t playing the “blame game.” The Hawks aren’t pointing the finger. A great organization allows the freedom to make mistakes and then asks, “What can I do next time to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?”

6. Great teams look for, develop, and reward leadership in its players. This is, among other reasons, why Lofa Tatupu is a successful MLB. The Hawks recognize that an aging Robbie Tobeck played such a key role last year. Physically he is challenged as he ages - but his leadership as the offensive line play caller was so vital to their success last year. By all the measurables - he had no business in the ProBowl. But he was an anchor because of his leadership and smarts.

7. John Kotter, of the Harvard University Business School, states that leadership is about dealing with change and management is about dealing with complexity. This is a great insight. Leaders have the unique ability to function under rapidly changing situations. Managers have the ability to deal with complex problems. I believe that the Hawks, under Paul Allen, understand this dynamic. Great managers write business plans and provide the resources to allow their organizations to function according to the plan. Great leaders understand the plan and then respond to the moment to moment challenges to the plan.

In sum - the Hawks are in very good shape. Team "chemistry" was great and I don't see a lot of downside to losing Steve Hutchinson or Marquand Manuel. As the great American Philosopher of the 20th century, Forrest Gump, said, "S#!T Happens." The Seahawks will get through this off-season and the Super Bowl loss and not look back.

Tom Anderson is known by the handle “montanahawkfan” on the Seahawks.NET message boards. If you enjoyed this article and would like to let Tom know, you may do so at Top Stories