Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Get the Process Right to Get the Right Results

Sometimes Super Bowl-type results can be achieved far easier and much faster by not focusing on the goal, but by dealing with the important process issues that are critical to the team’s success.


In October of 1995, I attended a fundraising dinner where Steve Young, the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, was the guest speaker. Young’s comments were so profound I still remember them today.

As almost anyone knows, Steve Young was the quarterback who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl Championship win in January of that year. He also was named Most Valuable Player for the game. At the fundraiser he shared one of his observations about that win.

Young said that during the previous year before the Super Bowl win, the 1993-94 season, the 49ers were a much stronger team and played far better than the year they won the championship. In that year they had a 13-2 record, compared to an 11-5 record in the 1994-95 season. But they lost in the playoffs that year.

One year later, with a less talented team and a poorer win-loss record, the 49ers won the Super Bowl. Why did this happen?

According to Young, in the previous season the team was totally focused on winning the Super Bowl. They thought of nothing else. They kept that goal at the forefront of their minds at all times. Nothing else mattered. Individual games were not important. One win was not a cause for celebration; it was just one step closer to the Super Bowl goal.

“We took a corporate view,” Young said. “We stayed focused on the goal. We came to work, accomplished the incremental goal before us, and moved on. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it. We just did it.”

During that season the team members hardly talked to each other. They came to work, did their job, and went home. It was not fun; it was work.

“We were so totally focused on the goal of winning the Super Bowl,” Young explained, “we forgot the importance of the process.”

And that is why they lost.

After their playoff loss, Jerry Rice, the extraordinary tight end, told the team he never wanted to have another year like they had had that season. It had not been enjoyable. Rice declared, and the team agreed that the next year they would focus on having fun and worry less about the results.

Young said the next year the team did have fun. They enjoyed the journey. They developed relationships along the way. They got to know one another and shared special moments. They celebrated after each win and used each loss as a catalyst for moving them closer to the Super Bowl.

“We used the losses to vent about relationships rather than abilities. We talked about how we handle pressure. And we made renewed commitments to do better in the next game.”

Young said what his team found out was “even if you don’t get to the goal, you see yourself grow as a person. You enjoy the team process and recognize its value. You grow from week to week as a result of the relationships you’ve created.”

As a result of having developed a stronger team bond, the team became stronger. They performed better. They became unified and, because of their unity, achieved superior results from a team that everyone assumed was inferior. They won the Super Bowl with a lesser team.

Conflicts often arise on work teams between members who are primarily results-driven and those who want to “slow down” to address process issues. Steve Young learned the importance of developing relationships among team members. He also realized the value of confronting process concerns around how team tasks are accomplished. He discovered the value of team unity to accomplishing results.

For years Innovative Management Group has facilitated team building sessions to help groups of individuals achieve greater results by working cohesively as a work unit. Occasionally teams have to stop working on their tasks long enough to assess whether or not all members are “stepping forward together” to achieve their common objective. As Steve Young learned from his own experience, sometimes Super Bowl-type results can be achieved far easier and much faster by not focusing on the goal, but by dealing with the important process issues that are critical to the team’s success.

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