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What the Seattle Seahawks Can Teach Us About Building Strong Teams

by Topher Kelly
featured, money & life

I have a confession: I’m a Seattle native, a fact I’ve done a mediocre job keeping under wraps in San Francisco 49ers territory. But Sunday’s Super Bowl win — Seattle’s first national championship of any kind in my lifetime — was an emotional experience, a magical finale to an emotional season. When reflecting on other great Seattle teams, such as Ken Griffey’s ‘95 Mariners or Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp’s ‘96 Sonics, there’s really no comparison to the talent and the unity of the 2014 Super Bowl champs. From Russell Wilson to Richard Sherman, the individual players exhibited unparalleled character on and off the field, as well as unmatched teamwork. Here are three things the Seattle Seahawks taught us about teamwork during the 2013/14 season:

Hustle Can Rival Experience

It’s no secret — building the right team is essential to every individual team member’s growth and success. One of the hardest decisions, when assembling your team, is knowing when to take a gamble on young talent instead of paying the big bucks for an experienced pro with a huge rolodex. For the Seahawks, Paul Allen and GM John Schneider made a gamble on a number of younger, untested talent — and won big. Russell Wilson is an obvious example — he’s a Pro Bowl quality quarterback who makes less than $1M a year — but the biggest hit might be Jermaine Kearse. Jermaine struggled to take his name from the practice squad to the team, yet he had four touchdown catches this season, the same number as big-money receivers like Steve Smith and Victor Cruz.

Without players like Jermaine Kearse, there would be no resources to bring in all-star talent like Percy Harvin — who is always good for an electric, big play. In hiring for your business, the lesson here is knowing how to spot the right mix of curiosity and hunger, and knowing where you can take bets on junior talent and where you need predictable all-stars in the lineup. For example, there are a number of benefits to hiring a college grad to take over your digital advertising or be a hardworking core member of your engineering team. Sure, it can be a gamble, but no one can have a team composed entirely of all-stars. When in doubt, evaluate the situation as best you can and ask yourself Who is Malcolm Smith?

The answer is: Malcolm Smith is now the 2014 Super Bowl MVP — but you wouldn’t recognize him even if you sat across from him at the lunch table.

Character Distinguishes Great From Good

Russell Wilson high-fives Marshawn Lynch on the field. Photo via @DangeRussWilson.

Russell Wilson high-fives Marshawn Lynch on the field. Photo via @DangeRussWilson.

Like most quarterbacks in the league, Russell Wilson is the face of the Seahawks. Sure, there’s no “I” in team, but there is no position in sports more demanding and more public-facing than the quarterback position. You are directly involved in each offensive play, you are the one team member every reporter wants and expects to talk to in the locker room after the game. Clint Dempsey can’t say that; Robinson Cano can’t say that either. The Seahawks, and the other teams in contention this year, have a quarterback that is more than a great player — he is a player with great character and leadership on the field and off the field. In other words,  go ahead — hate Tom Brady all you want, but you have to respect him.

Russell in particular has clear motivations, priorities, and goals. He shows up to watch game tape so early he beats the video team to their office door. He is just as consistent off the field, never missing his weekly visit (with wife Ashton) to make the rounds at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital. Your business exec team should aspire to Russell Wilson-grade consistency, making good on every promise they make, steering the ship with a clear vision based on transparent values. Your company values should never waiver — even when tested by fiery competition. Your brand should be something that people recognize, admire, and associate with hard work and positive, enduring results.

All Eyes Must Be on the Same Prize

One of the most important steps toward building a team starts at the very genesis of your business, when you craft a mission statement and write a formal business plan. For the Seahawks, it all started with a simple agreement made between owner Paul Allen, GM Gary Schneider, and coach Pete Carroll four years ago, outlining the style of team they wanted to build. Afterwards, it was all about executing that agreement. They went out and signed the players they needed to realize their goals, and then they took the right risks, and put in the hard work necessary to build a powerhouse football team.

The Seahawks’ goal, which is arguably the same for every football team, was to win the Super Bowl. In the business world, however, goals and plans aren’t fixed, and your industry’s crowning Super Bowl will often change shape year over year. You need to be flexible, change gears, and keep your eyes firmly set on the horizon. Take Twitter, for example — the tech giant’s mission was to communicate and share podcasts with friends. That vision changed after competitors beat them to filling that niche, and the company switched emphasis to a messaging app for sharing information and conversing with friends and strangers alike. Sharing was the common denominator from the beginning, and everyone at Twitter was unified behind that goal. The prize may change, but every single employee should be passionate about obtaining it and feel personally responsible for the end result — win or lose. Seattle succeeded in creating that environment.

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Topher Kelly

Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.