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With the recent official kick off of the NFL season, now seems like the perfect time to talk about what we can learn from the NFL in terms of teamwork and enterprise collaboration.

At this point, many of you are probably conjuring up images of your high school coach (of any sport) or maybe even one of the great ones from the big league, such as legends Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry. Some of the most inspiring “team” lessons on the field have come from these and other great coaches over the years.

Lessons from the Field

Today, however, I want to focus on what we can learn from behind the scenes at the NFL. Whether you like the product or not, you have to be impressed each season at how the whole thing just comes together. Most fans just take it for granted, but as a student of “process” and “collaboration,” I see it as a carefully orchestrated symphony, where all the players and instruments must come together at exactly the right moment, or disaster ensues. Ok, maybe the symphony is not the best analogy for the NFL, but you get the point.

Let’s set aside scouting, the draft, money and all other factors and focus on just one game. Obviously each team is responsible for its own stadium and organization, but for simplicity, we’ll assume for this example that most are alike.

There are thousands of people involved in getting everything ready for what amounts to a 3-hour event on a given Sunday. In no particular order there are: security, concessions, parking, ticket sales, suite services, grounds crews, AV staff, officials, players, press, broadcasters, radio, TV staff and more!

How Sunday Night Happens

Many of us have had challenges managing a team of five, let alone 5,000. So how does it work or perhaps more importantly, why does it work?

Here are a few broad observations from a collaboration and project management view:

1. Defined Scope

An NFL game must be the most defined project scope ever: get two teams to play a previously scheduled game according to a strict set of rules (profitably).

2. Get Everyone on the Same Page

Look around at an NFL game. I don’t know how they communicate or what technology they use to do so, but you’ll rarely find staff unsure of what’s happening. There’s a strict schedule, and everyone seems to know it (why does it feel that there aren’t a lot meetings taking place?).

3. Plan Plan Plan

The beauty of some of these games is in how easy things seem to go, but you and I know that is the result of careful planning. They seem to have contingency plans for everything (from triple overtime to lightning storms).

4. Team Members Know their Roles

For this one, we can start on the field. There aren’t a lot of offensive linemen running down the field on a slant to haul in a touchdown pass. Even most of the fans seem to know their roles: stay in the seat, spend lots of money and don’t try to play the game (I said most fans).

5. Clear Milestones and Deadlines

There are very clear milestones and deadlines for a game. Water the grass too late (or vacuum the turf?) and the teams can’t play. Open the parking too late and the traffic can effect a whole city.

As you sit down to enjoy a game, think back to April when the NFL released its schedule and think of everything that had to happen prior to Sunday to make it all possible. You might have to pause your DVR to take it all in. Then on Monday, when you return to face your own projects, keep in mind the basic principles of why something such as the NFL works on such a massive scale. It might give you a whole new perspective on Monday morning quarterbacking.

Title image courtesy of David Lee (Shutterstock)