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NFL training camps are underway, and when it comes to football, I may be from California but I gravitate toward the New England Patriots – the disruptors of the NFL and perhaps its most hated team. Yet in their disruption, the Patriots in the Robert Kraft-Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era have, like my music heroes, created something unprecedented: a team and quarterback that have won five Super Bowls together.
As a kid, I always gravitated toward disruptors in the music I listened to: Elvis who disrupted the sound of the 1950s and Michael Jackson who disrupted the world of videos in the 1980s. This was not surprising since disruption was in my blood. Shortly after he graduated college, my dad left a career in engineering and decided to pursue his passion for music. In the 1950s, his quartet Los Llopis disrupted the sounds of Cuba, becoming the first to integrate American rock ‘n’ roll with the rhythms and the sounds of the island.
My dad wasn’t just disrupting the status quo — he was creating something new: Cuban crossover music. Elvis and Michael Jackson were creators, too.
In our fractured political world, the Patriots’ sustained success offers a lesson for all organizations and leaders: teams only grow when they evolve together.
You don’t have to like the Pats, but you do have to admire the way their leadership and players function as a team. Any team can win once, and maybe twice, but to keep winning requires more than just putting up numbers. It requires more than just following an agenda. Those numbers and that agenda become stronger and those teams become more creative in thought and create more distinction when they are in a position of evolving together.
Here are three crucial lessons the Patriots’ success offers for creating environments in which people and teams grow and thus create growth by evolving together.
1. They align perception with expectation.
The Patriots may not always get it right, but they rarely mistake perception and expectation. Their players never suffer from an identity crisis — they know what is expected of them as individuals and what the expectations of the team are. That’s a winning formula. It’s also why the Patriots can find the likes of Tom Brady in the sixth round of the draft or Julian Edelman in the seventh. It’s why veterans like Randy Moss work to overcome past perceptions to fit the team’s expectations in order to win. It’s also why the team’s stars can find themselves packed off to another team in the middle of Super Bowl season if the Patriots feel perceived value does not meet expectations.
2. They know who is qualified to be on the team.
In business, like sports, we see this all the time: strategies for team building and organizational transformations that look good on paper but lack the right people to execute and implement them. The Patriots never seem to lack the right people to execute — but what’s right is never about the résumé. They know that the team they had last season or even last week is not necessarily the team that they will need to lead tomorrow. They know where the gaps are and solve for them quickly. For the Patriots, the key is mindset — not experience. They have no patience for players who may have years more experience and track records but lack the right mindset to influence the team’s success. Players who harp on their past successes to legitimize themselves often end up sucking all the air out of the room, leading other team members to just sit there quietly, play it safe, and do what they are told and thus weaken the team.
3. They realize diversity drives growth.
The Patriots understand that today’s teams are more diverse and made up of individuals who want to maintain their individuality as they work towards the team’s goals. But the Patriots also thrive despite something damaging to most teams: dissent. Kraft, Belichick, and Brady are publicly friends and/or supporters of President Trump. Yet there was not one public statement from the team against those players who refused to visit the White House — and not one statement by those players against their leaders when they supported the President.
That’s what happens when everyone feels valued as individuals and yet has a mindset that fits the team and a strategic focus beyond execution. So, throw the old mindset out when it comes to your teams. Great teams know how to evolve together by allowing everyone to find their distinction and best apply it to the organization they are serving. That’s winning with an innovation mentality.
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