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How to build a championship-caliber roster

By Matt Poepsel

The 51st Super Bowl lineup can teach us valuable talent lessons about your organization’s own team players

On Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots will square off in the 51st Super Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. Both teams are eyeing the Vince Lombardi trophy and the coveted title of World Champions.

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Greg Bedard shared his observations regarding New England coach Bill Belichick’s leadership methods. This got us thinking about what other talent lessons we can glean from the gridiron.

We decided to share our own take on the players and staff who take teams to the top of the mountain. See if you recognize these folks in your own organization.

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The General Manager

The GM is the visionary who’s ultimately responsible for the team that takes the field. He has his finger on the pulse of the organization’s current capabilities and what gaps need to be addressed in the future. He understands how all the pieces fit together, and sets the priorities of the organization.

In the business world, this person bridges the gap between the bottom-line results the organization wants to produce and its master plan on how to get there. It may be the CEO or a division chief in a larger organization. Many people issues are rooted in a poorly defined strategy, so make sure to get this part right.

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The Talent Scout

The Scout is always on the lookout for up-and-comers who have the raw skills to make it at the next level. He’s constantly evaluating whether a given candidate will be able to come into the organization, put in the work, and develop into a contributing team member.

In the war for talent that’s currently raging, The Scout’s approach is increasingly common. Skills can be developed, so Talent Acquisition pros have taken to hiring for cultural and behavioral fit first and demonstrated experience second. You can’t coach fit and you can’t afford to miss when it comes to these key contributors.

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The Rookie

Bright-eyed and full of nervous energy, the rookie is brand new to the working game. Fresh out of school, he’s unpolished at best. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for with grit and determination.

When it comes to your rookies, the best thing you can do is to provide them with insights that help them increase their self-awareness and set the stage for personal development. This isn’t the kind of thing that entry-level workers learn in school, but it’s essential for their long-term growth and performance.

The Veteran

At the other end of the experience spectrum, The Veteran has been there, done that, and has the XXL T-Shirt to prove it. Over the years, he’s learned the game but he’s also learned a great deal about people in the process. This makes The Veteran a highly valued contributor.

In organizations, we often see that performance relates to how well a multigenerational workforce can effectively work together. Generational differences must be set aside in the name of mission accomplishment. Each team member is on his or her own relative career path, but each has a unique combination of knowledge, skills, and other attributes to contribute to the final product.

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The Pro Bowler

The game has known many solid players, but relatively few reach the ranks of the elite. The Pro Bowler isn’t content to just perform at his best. He strives to make those around him better, as well. He leads by example, and his expectations of himself and others is contagious.

Off the field, elite employees in the working world take the time to get to know their teammates preferences and styles. They find a way to complement and mesh with each contributor while preserving overall alignment and team performance. It’s critical to identify and support these folks as much as possible.

The Field General

The quarterback position is the most demanding on the field. The Field General doesn’t just need to know his own responsibilities but also those of all the other players on every play and in every situation. Quick learning, adaptability, and lighting-fast decision making are critical success factors for the Field General.

There have been hundreds of quarterbacks who were physically gifted and hardworking but who lacked the mental makeup and composure required of the position. Understanding the cognitive requirements of key roles and the capabilities of those who seek to fulfill them can be the difference between winning it all and going home early.

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The Free Agent

If you’re going to stay competitive, you have to be able to attract and secure top talent from the labor market. The best Free Agents have choices, so they come to the negotiation table as sellers not buyers. They know that your team needs them to put you over the top, and they want to make the best all-around choice for their situations.

Based on the surging popularity of websites like The Muse that target passive candidates, there is a lot of Free Agent activity in the labor market. If you want to attract top performers, you need to get clear about your company’s culture and what makes it a no-brainer for the right candidates. Use that info along with what you’ve learned about a given candidate to make your most effective pitch possible.

Top football clubs make heavy use of personnel data. They employ advanced analytics looking for any edge in a high-stakes, ultracompetitive game.

In the business world, we do something similar. For us, this means making effective use of assessments – those that measure the job requirements and the people who seek to or who currently fill them.

If you work hard to master the people factors related to your business, you too can make a championship run. Half the world may not tune in to watch you do so, but the victory can taste just as sweet when you do.

How do you prepare your team for a championship run in your business? Share your thoughts using the comments section below!

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Matt Poepsel, PhD, is the VP of Professional Services at PI, the "Godfather of Talent Optimization," and the author of "Expand the Circle: Enlightened Leadership for Our New World of Work." For every N. E. Patriots game, he prepares food and drinks that originate from the opponent's region.

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