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What the Seattle Seahawks teach us about building teams


Legion of Boom! Is your team this tight?

Seattle Seahawks and HR lessons learned from the 2015 NFC Championship

Here in Seattle Washington, the entire city is fired up about the NFC Champions, Seattle Seahawks going to SuperBowl XLIX. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t watch too many games this year, but I really enjoyed the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers this past weekend. Yes, it was exciting, yes, it was a nail-biter, but for me personally as an HR guy, it was a story of an organization that captures the essence of “Best Place to Work”.

Richard Sherman

Nothing says badass moe foe like flying into the end zone while flexing your muscles and calling attention to your junk, BACKWARDS! Marshawn Lynch doing it with style. 

I have said it before and it was reinforced to me during the Seahawks NFC Championship game. Hire employees that were living your company values BEFORE they were hired, and you have the foundation for the Best Place to Work. Interview and hire your team to succeed in the worst of times and they will stick with the mission when the chips are down. Anyone can hire a team to perform in the best of times when the money is flowing and everyone is in a good mood. Building a team that will perform when the odds are against you when many would give up, takes chops. The Seahawks have those chops.

Hire for success against adversity within your company culture.

For me, the parallels between the concept of sports teams and departments within corporate America were uncanny. Watching this game, I observed a number of dynamics in action that all corporate managers are striving for with their teams. I saw in the Seahawks the values that every company tries to recruit, nurture and retain within the departments they build. Yes, I am comparing HR with the 2015 NFC Champions – the Seattle Seahawks.

For those not familiar with American Football here is a quick breakdown of last weeks battle and the adversity the team faced:

  • The Seahawks trailed 19 – 7 with 4 minutes remaining and were all but ineffective on offense prior to this point. For many, the game was over (some Seahawks fans actually began to actually leave their HOME STADIUM).
  • Quarterback Russell Wilson threw more interceptions (4) in the first 3 quarters than he had in any other game.
  • Richard Sherman, the All-Pro Cornerback plays much of the 4th quarter holding one arm pinned to his body due to injury.
  • Earl Thomas, one of the leagues best defensive backs leaves the game with a dislocated shoulder and then returns with a harness to finish the game. (I don’t know about you, but that sounds painful. He is going to tackle 250 lb. men with this shoulder?)

So what did I see in the game that gets me so fired up when thinking about HR building great teams and legendary leadership?

1.  The Seahawks NEVER gave up

The Hawks believed in each other till the very end. With 3 minutes and 19 seconds left in the game, had the Seahawks chance of winning at 1%. After Russell Wilson’s 4th interception, ESPN put the Seahawks probability of LOSING at 97.1%. In other words, ESPN’s software predicted that ninety-seven times out of a hundred, the Seahawks would lose. I doubt the Seahawks looked at this stat, but if they did, I think they would have looked at the number with the glass half full and seen a 3.9% chance of WINNING instead of the 97.1% chance of losing. Instead of throwing in the towel, the team did what they always do, they believed in each other. Faith in each other was able to come naturally for them and because it is not just a “corporate value” for the Seahawks but a value the team looked for and hired when recruiting new players. It is a value the culture nurture’s and protects. One percentage point at a time, the Seahawks believed in themselves and never gave up. One step at a time, they held a belief in each other that they would claw back and they did. This unified team created luck and capitalized on the opportunities presented to them one play at a time. If you are sitting in an office cube and are not able to relate, think, David Horwitz’s newest book; The Hard Thing About Hard Things. When it can’t seem to get worse it does, but you keep fighting. Just a few of the quotes post-game from the team reinforcing that the team didn’t give up:

  • “I believed in our offense, I believed in our playmaker’s and Russ always finds a way”. Richard Sherman (see last years Superbowl post on Richard Sherman here
  • Jermaine Kearse fumbles 2 passes. Russell Wilson throws an additional two interceptions with Kearse as the intended receiver. Where most armchair quarterbacks would have us passing the ball to a different receiver the rest of the game, Wilson predicts that he would throw the GAME WINNER to Kearse on an audible. Yes, he does just that. Game winning pass to the guy who fumbled twice and was intercepted twice. (That my friends are two brothers believing in each other.)
  • “Y’all ain’t gotta believe in us because we believe in ourselves”, Doug Baldwin on fans leaving the game early when the odds were against the Seahawks.
  • Russell Wilson after the game: “I just believed, we all just kept believing in each other and I just believed we were going to make the plays that we needed to make, that somehow we would get it done. I believed we could overcome the turnovers and the mistakes and the adversity”.

2. The right hire for the right company culture.

You can have the Best Place to Work but that doesn’t mean this workplace is the right place for everyone. An asshole will upset the balance created in most Best Places to work but will probably be effective and happy in a culture of fellow assholes. A culture of assholes could also win Best Place to Work if everyone is on board with the mission and the recruiting team is consistent with the hiring practices of looking for assholes.

  • The Seahawks look to word choices of potential draft picks (job candidate) culling those with negative language or finger-pointing. They want accountability and optimism. They make a point to hire to this standard and have subtle tests to cull for players that will fit the corporate culture.
  • I love to see the pure Grit of a guy like Richard Sherman playing with the equivalent of one arm. He kept himself in the game and didn’t allow any of the physicians to check out his obvious injury which I can only assume would have sidelined him. After the game, he was quoted, “I am 100%. My arm will have to fall off for me to miss the Super Bowl”. Sherman is not a guy that calls in sick at the first sign of a sniffle.
  • Pete Carroll is this HR guy’s wet dream when it comes to CEO’s. In a city with a reputation of some very hotheaded CEO’s, Coach Carroll is the role model. Coach Carroll has a style of encouragement and not laying blame, ever.
  • Carroll gives the individuals on the team the freedom to be themselves. He is on a constant quest to identify and maximize the uniqueness of every player and coach. He is committed to a nurturing environment that allows people to be themselves while still being accountable to the team. Carroll is committed to honoring diversity and respecting individuality.
  • Tom Cable, former hot head coach of the Raiders changed his coaching style after working with Pete Carroll. “If I go ballistic on a guy because he dropped his outside hand or missed an underneath stunt, who is wrong? I am.” Cable says. “I’m attacking his self-confidence and he’s learning that if he screws up, he is going to get yelled at. If you make a mistake here, it’s going to get fixed.” Cable knows the difference between a boss and a manager.

Yes, it was a great game. It is one that will go down in history books, but for me, it reminded me of why I practice HR and what I love about HR. It inspired me to re-think and raise my game when it comes to building amazing teams and how a cohesive team can make a difference to the bottom line.  I don’t have any Seahawks gear but I will probably go out and buy a Seahawks cap to remember this day of sports and team building greatness. Congrats and thank you Seahawks for inspiring this HR guy.

See you at the Super Bowl,



nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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