3 lessons from the Atlanta Falcons about working on teams

What can I say — I’m a fan. If you are from Atlanta, I know, you’ve heard it all by now. Why did they keep throwing the ball? Why didn’t they just take their time? I won’t get into dissecting the Super Bowl here, but I will direct your attention to a few lessons that I think can be gleaned from the history of the team, which can be applied to teamwork in the workplace.

Talent is important, but camaraderie is essential to success

I’m a fan of Michael Vick. Nobody is ever beyond redemption, and I believe that Vick has made a great comeback from the dark events of his past. When he came into the league, he was perhaps one of the most talented to ever play the game. He took the Falcons to fantastic heights. However, when the going got tough, in 2006, he resorted to lashing out at fans, hurting his image and the team’s morale.

A team’s morale and camaraderie are essential because, while talented teams can perform under many circumstances, a lack of camaraderie robs teams of the desire to perform. If a team has camaraderie and talent, then anything is possible — which is why we, as good coworkers, ought to hold our team’s morale and culture in the highest regard, and protect it at all costs.

If your teammate doesn’t want to be there, then you shouldn’t want them to be there.

After Michael Vick left the Falcons, the team went through a period of considerable turmoil. Jim Mora had been dismissed and the end of the previous season, and the new coach was Bobby Petrino. Petrino had come to Atlanta thinking he would get the team with Vick, but instead he got a media circus and a lot of distractions. A little more than halfway through the season, he left in the middle of the night for another team, leaving Atlanta in even more chaos than it had been before he came.

The exact reasons for Petrino’s exit may never be known, but the lesson here is that you should always try, before bringing someone new to your team, to discern whether they really want to be a part of your team. If they don’t really want to be there, then no amount of incentives or success will make your relationship work out in the long run. And ultimately, they need to be able to go somewhere else.

Protecting the team’s culture doesn’t mean always being nice

“Iron sharpens iron” is a phrase that is often used by the Falcons’ current head coach, Dan Quinn. Quinn explains it simply as “one man helping another man to get ready”. The phrase has its origins in Christian scripture:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

(Proverbs 27:17)

Football is a contact sport; when “one man helping another” is compared to “iron sharpening iron”, the reason is that the process of “sharpening” is not always pleasant. In order to be ready for the test, a player must be able to perform in practice against his teammate. Drills and exercises expose the weaknesses in our game. While the process might be unpleasant at times, it is necessary for the progress of the team — and for the members.

The sharpening metaphor works in actual metalworking as well. In order to sharpen iron, it must be ground down. There are many methods of abrasion that the woodworker or metalworker can use to sharpen his tools, but all of them involve removing the parts of the iron that are unnecessary, in order to render the tool sharp and effective.

So too, in our teams, in the workplace, we must be able to think critically about our tasks and improve over time. If we are not open to this kind of sharpening, our team will not improve.

Obviously, we work in teams constantly here, and a lot of thinking goes into addressing how to function and care best for one another. Our morale and culture are incredibly important, but we have learned that those things are always important — no matter where one works or lives.

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