A Lesson on Competitive Business Strategy from the College Grid Iron

Autumn Saturdays are abundant with human interest stories and lessons in life and business, with collegiate rivalries played out on football fields across the country.  This past weekend, one of the greatest such match-ups took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan.   Number 17 ranked Michigan State University took on their cross-town rival, #18 University of Michigan, both coming into the game undefeated.

This year, U of M’s confidence was bolstered by a superstar quarterback receiving national attention as a Heisman trophy candidate.  And while U of M has historically won the majority of clashes on the football field against MSU, this year, MSU dominated the game and claimed a 34-17 victory.  Following the game, sportscasters summed it up this way… right now U of M has a great quarterback; MSU has an all-around great team.

Of course, the analogy to business is obvious, and hundreds of books can be found on the merits and methodology of teambuilding in business.  But the question I want to challenge you to consider is this… how are you defining your team? Obviously your employees are your most critical resource – your Quarterback.  This is where 99.9% of corporate teambuilding efforts reside.  But what about your suppliers?   Their suppliers?  Your distributors?  Vendors providing you outsourced services?

On the football field, you’re only as strong as your weakest player.  Your opponent will find your weakness – the “hole in your line” – and run through it.   How much time / energy / resources are you investing in ensuring each of the players on your team – your whole team – are in sync with one another and are as strong as they can be?  In business, each player touching your organization, both internal and external, has the potential to either be a “hole in your line” or your competitive advantage.

As the global economy continues to create increasing supply chain complexity and risk, the stakes have never been higher to strategically and effectively manage your organization’s external resources.  In no industry is this more applicable than food, where food safety is dependent on the practices of every element in the food manufacturer’s supply chain, and where one “hole in the line” could be literally lethal to the consumer and every company associated with that product.  Thus there exists not only tremendous potential, but frankly a mandate, for food companies to ensure that their whole team of internal and external resources is aligned and operating effectively.    And while the food industry example is easily identifiable to all of us as food consumers, the same concept holds true in all industries… your employees and external resources can make or break your company.

So how do organizations successfully develop and leverage the strengths of the whole team?  It begins with defining the specific behaviors needed from each player.  Organizations commonly do this internally in identifying specific job responsibilities and job performance criteria for employees.  And they do this with external resources in terms of the deliverables contracted for specific engagements.  But to truly leverage your internal and external resources for competitive advantage, there must be a deeper level of energy and attention given to strategically aligning internal and external resources to ensure everyone is fully optimized and playing from the same playbook.

In our experience, the organizations who are fully leveraging their internal AND external resources have specifically articulated the behaviors they need and expect from their employees, suppliers, vendors, distributors, etc.  Interestingly, the behaviors that consistently top the “most critical” list are the same for each of these groups:

–          Effective Communicators

–          Collaborative

–          Strategic

–          Innovative

–          Proactive Problem Solvers

–          Alignment with the Values of the Organization

To build a team of internal and external resources that are strategically aligned and equipped to achieve success together, consider the following….

►     What conversations have you had with your suppliers, vendors, distributors, to explore the behaviors you both need from one another in order to be more strategically aligned with one another – to leverage one another as a competitive advantage?

►     What resources and best practices can you share with one another in order to enhance the capacity for each of you to demonstrate the behaviors noted above and add strategic value to one another more robustly than is currently happening?

►     How would your suppliers, vendors, distributors, and your employees rate your organization on demonstration of the behaviors noted above?  Ask them!

►     How would YOUR CUSTOMERS rate YOU on demonstration of the behaviors noted above?

Your organization may currently be successful – maybe even “undefeated so far this season” thanks to a handful of stars on your team.  But sooner or later, the competition and the market will find your weak points.  To sustain long-term success, you will need to be strategic, innovative, and proactive in building a collaborative team of internal and external resources that are fully aligned for long-term strategic success.

Written by Chris Fietsam, Lead Executive Coach, Paragon Leadership International

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2 responses to “A Lesson on Competitive Business Strategy from the College Grid Iron

  1. Every time I see blogs as good as this because I should stop bludging and start working on mine.Thanks

  2. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.
    Keep working ,great job!

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