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Building ‘Undefeated’ teams

In 2002, Bill Courtney took over as Head Football Coach for the Mannasas Tigers in Memphis. Their story is chronicled in the Oscar winning documentary, Undefeated. He came to a team that had not won a single game in over ten years. It took him six years, but Courtney took the “losers” and transformed them into a unit that won the district championship. He didn’t do it by making his team focus on winning games; he did it by focusing on what was much more important:

The foundation has got to be a solid platform that you can stand on and speak to these kids and say, ‘This is the way you build yourself. If you build yourself this way and handle yourself this way and have character, you get to play football. And winning will take care of itself because young men of character and discipline and commitment end up winning in life and they end up winning in football. But when you flip it and the foundation of what you’re doing is football and you hope all that other stuff follows… Well then you think that football builds character. Which it does not. Football reveals character.’
~ Bill Courtney

Great companies are no different from great sports teams — they’re both collections of individuals that, together, achieve dramatically more than any one individual can. What sets great companies and great teams apart is a shared foundation. And foundations need depth. Deep foundations are imbued with vision, values and goals that go beyond short-term objectives like “Win the game” or “Achieve the revenue target”. Great teams don’t view their wins as achievements, they see them as an outcome of pursuing greater goals and staying true to their foundation.

When sports teams or business teams “flip it” and focus on the wrong end of the stick, they confuse outcomes and goals; they confuse cause and effect. And for confused teams, the most typical end is ruin.