Zookel Blog: News & Views

The Swans & The Patriots – Lessons Learned

Having just finished reading James Lavin’s book Management Secrets of the New England Patriots; From Patsies to Triple Super Bowl Champs – I thought it was worthy of reflecting on a couple of key takeaways:

  1. Similar to the Sydney Swans (an AFL team in Australia) and their “no dickheads” policy The Patriots focus on the group or team dynamics over the individual.
  2. Whilst some players inevitably have a higher profile – as stated by Lavin The Patriots “don’t want a team of overpaid stars and a bunch of resentful journeymen making the league minimum” instead they “bring in people who value being part of a successful organization, and like to be around other hard-working guys who want to win,” The result: Few Patriots players have stellar individual statistics, but the “team” has two of the longest winning streaks in National Football League history. And it has won three Super Bowls in four years.
  3. Similarly the Swans have overlooked potential recruits with “superior skills” because they didn’t have the right character. As their manager (Paul Roos) says “I won’t name the names, but we’ve been laughed at sometimes for overlooking kids because they didn’t have the qualities we wanted…a few years later, the same blokes are making headlines for the wrong sort of things. They’re underperforming”. The result: The swans won the AFL title for the first time in 72 years in 2005 and backed up by making the finals for five straight seasons.
  4. Both teams have taken somewhat radical steps to reinforce the focus on the group for example:
    • The Swans have implemented the practice of a leadership group and co-captains. The leadership group are senior players who set the code of conduct, dictate the culture, and importantly deal with any breaches to the code. The idea of co-captains again reduces the focus & pressure on one individual to be “the man” and instead relies on the combined strengths, skills and differences of three.
    • The Patriots have shied away from individual performance goals and focused instead on broad measures. If the team wins a set number of games, or if fans and coaches vote a player into the Pro Bowl, bonuses kick in. There are also smaller penalties and incentives meant to bring about shared responsibility. For instance, if an offensive lineman jumps offside during practice, the entire offense does a lap, not just the player. “The idea,” says Lavin, “is make everybody feel responsible for everybody else.”

Is The Swans / Patriots approach the best (or indeed the only successful one)?

Clearly not.

However the success and uniqueness of the approach they’ve taken does reinforce that adding the culture & management structure of the company you’re interested in joining (or the indeed the potential new recruits fit within the company culture & management structure) to your evaluation (or selection) criteria is critical.

What do we do at Zookel? Personally I’d much rather play in a champion team than a team of champions.

Good luck with the continued job hunt.

Paul & Team Zookel

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