I've been watching more football and basketball recently - mostly because I'm studying how the Boise State University programs work as organizations. As I've gotten to know some of the coaches, I've also become more vested in what happens in a game. The danger is that if the games are exciting (read: unless Boise State is three touchdowns ahead), I get so stressed, I can hardly sit still.
That's when I start focusing more on the coaches. What I see from a distance are people making fast decisions and conveying those decisions to the players. How does that happen? If I could understand how coaches make good, fast decisions during a game, maybe that could be helpful for business leaders as well?
So I asked one of Boise State's football coaches about it. Chris Strausser is associate head coach and also oversees the offensive line and running game. (Don't ask me what all that means, please.) But he was able to explain to me, the ultimate sports novice, how decision making and communication works during a game so I could think about how that might help business.
Ready? Here goes.
In a football game, the offensive coordinator calls the plays from the press box far above the field, where he can see the whole field, the lineups and players. He then tells the coaches on the field what plays to run. But when things aren't going well, here's how a conversation may play out.
Strausser (on the sideline): "Our inside zone play isn't working. We need to get the ball outside."
Coordinator (in press box): "OK. What do you want to do and how do you want to do it?"
Strausser: "Let's run Ted out of our trio formation" (or something equally unfathomable to me but perfectly clear to both of them).
Coordinator: "Let's do it."
Strausser goes to the circle of chairs where his players sit, each in his "own" chair, based on the positions they play. He can go directly (efficiently) to the players affected by the change in the blocking scheme and make sure they understand before they head out to the field to run the play.
Because of that (new) play, the coordinator then adjusts the upcoming ones (again, fast).
Time from Strausser's first comment to the play's execution? No more than three minutes, max.
Now, let's deconstruct why and how this can happen so quickly.
First, the coordinator trusts his coach on the field completely. He realizes that Strausser sees things he can't, so he asks for input ("what do you want to do and how?"). He trusts that Strausser will have a suggestion and then accepts the decision that the coach on the field makes.
Second, successful communication and execution comes from efficiency, from where players sit (to get to them quickly) to the wording (the players understand the code), and trust in the players that they can execute (because they've practiced that play, even if it was a few weeks before).
And what does this boil down to that any leader can heed?
Trust, willingness to ask for input and go with a decision made "in the field," and ability to efficiently convey information and execute a decision that can be used to adjust future actions.
Sounds like good business to me.