Boosting employee morale: Lessons from the NFL playbook

By Paige Leidig
Or, let’s talk football. It’s Friday, and you’ve closed that deal you’ve all worked so hard on—just the paperwork left to sign. You’re one stride from the end zone. After significant, collaborative effort, everyone feels rewarded and proud. Everyone hits the ground running on Monday, and company morale is high after this success.

But, fast forward to Friday, and the client has cancelled, with the deal going to a competitor. Company morale leaves the stadium, motivation with it, and a toxic cloud of disappointment settles.

Moving on after a loss

This kind of setback affects everyone and everything in a company, from recruiting and retention (‘I don’t want to work at ABC anymore. I heard they just lost a big contract to XYZ, and I’m going to apply for a job there.’) right through to culture, productivity, and revenue. In a word, it’s a disaster.

Ever been here? Are you here now? Whether you’re a leader or team participant, you’re probably wondering how to manage the situation, and that’s important. With good leadership, all will be well, most of the time.

But is there a way to be better prepared? Is there a way to prevent it from happening at all? To figure this out, let’s look at how other teams work, specifically sports teams, where tension and excitement are already running full tilt in the build-up between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. The big game on February 12 is just a handful of days away.

Both teams will be pumped about winning, but a good bit of team focus will be on how not to lose by handling the inevitable interference that comes up. Let’s explore some of the top upsets in NFL history to see if we can learn more about it and what to do when interference wins and company morale takes a hit.

Communicate early and often to head off disruption

Superbowl XLII – New York Giants 17 / New England Patriots 14

Not only did the Giants win, but they also managed to ruin the Patriots’ perfect end to a flawless season with a touchdown grab that lives forever in the memory of the Giants’ fans. The win caused one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game, in fact.

It’s a win that shouldn’t have happened, but it did, with the Patriots caught off guard and rushed by a better-prepared competitor.

How could you get ahead of business disruption and prevent a negative outcome?

Early communication is critical. Leading companies get ahead of the game by communicating early and well and consistently monitoring the data acquired during this process. This allows for effective planning and preparedness.

Quality leadership is vital. Teams won’t flourish or communicate well under weak managers. This year, 2023, well away from the triumphs of more than a decade ago, New York Giants were not even supposed to be a playoff team, but they turned themselves around with new management and fresh approaches to increase the chances of success.

Strong, consistent team or company culture. With a good culture, players and employees feel valued and have the fundamental support to give their best.

Know your opponent. ‘Never underestimate your enemy’ is a famous quote attributed to George Washington. Napoleon Bonaparte and many others. Just as NFL players need to know their opposing teams’ strategies, so should you be aware of yours.

Develop preparedness to 100%. Easier said than done but, the Giants left no stone unturned to ensure the best possible comeback outcome in 2023. Superbowl contenders have done everything to position themselves as the top team for the job and, therefore, the one that wins the contract.

Cohesive teams can overcome the odds

Superbowl III New York Jets 16 / Baltimore Colts 7

Another historic game where the outcome took fans by surprise. They played in Miami in 1969, and the Jets were underdogs and Colts the favorites. Did anyone doubt the Colts would win that day? This aside, the Jets had a cohesive team, and famously, three days before the game, quarterback Joe Namath, irritated by constant media speculation, publicly gave fans a guarantee that the Jets would win. They did. Despite a last push by the Colts – too little too late – the jets took the victory.

Joe’s bold prediction had given the Jets belief. Morale soared, and this triggered the vital motivation for success. Collaborative teamwork did the rest.

How does this work in a business? Precisely the same way. If there is a clear vision of company goals within a collaborative workspace, and if a healthy company culture supports this, you have the best foundation to succeed. Similarly, effective teamwork will get you over the line.

Staying flexible in the face of challenges

Superbowl XXXVI New England Patriots 20 / St Louis Rams 17

Here’s another story about belief, trust, and knowing your value. The New England Patriots played their first Superbowl game in New Orleans on 2 February 2002. Phenomenal player Tom Brady, the holder of numerous quarterback records, took his team to victory that day because of meticulous planning, pitch-perfect strategy, and thinking like an underdog.

Brady’s leadership works because he sets quantifiable goals, calculates every detail to reach them, is adaptable, and prioritizes recruitment and retention. He is humble and values a healthy work-life balance. Most importantly, perhaps, he believes in his team, himself, and their ability to succeed. It shows. Similarly, his team believes in him, and this proves a powerful combination, over and over.

See which Tom Brady strategies you can emulate in your business—or send it to the football fan in your life who can’t stand him!

Identify strengths to allow workers to Simply FlourishTM

Superbowl XXXII Denver Broncos 31 / Green Bay Packers 24

San Diego, 1998, and the Packers were the defending champions. The game was billed as a battle between two quarterback kings, one young and one old. The old one was John Elway, at 38, and he was one game away from retirement. Elway spent his entire career playing for the Broncos, and during those 16 years, he was the starting quarterback in five Superbowl games. He was a master of the offensive game and, some might say, a born interferer. Once management learned to build talent around him, they were on their way to Superbowl victory.

Elway is a Broncos legend, and his phenomenal career demonstrates how a favorable work environment enables employees to thrive. Similarly, collaborative teamwork supports a strong leader.  Properly managed, this approach can combat interference and deliver a victory.

Read more about John Elway’s commitment and team spirit, and that although it’s always critical to hire the right guy, you must also create the right employee experience

 so they can realize their full potential and Simply FlourishTM.

Operating from a single source of truth

Superbowl IV Kansas City Chiefs 23 / Minnesota Vikings 7

Here’s a story of an underdog winning against all odds. No one expected the Chiefs to win that day back in January 1970 in New Orleans, yet they convincingly defeated the Vikings. The Chief’s fine-tuned players and superb tactical planning played an indispensable role in the team’s victory.

While many factors were in play, the Kansas City Chiefs also drew from a single source of truth that day. Some folks call it ‘singing from the same hymn sheet.’ A single source of truth means using the same data source to make decisions. This provides a shared path to ideas and creates awareness of obstacles that may throw up challenges.

Either way, with clarity of focus on a shared mission, Chiefs could rattle the Vikings and create situations where they fumbled.

We’re all familiar with that sinking feeling when someone literally ‘drops the ball’ in a big game. The roars of disappointment from sofa and stadium alike are deafening, and fan morale takes an instant dip. Don’t let this happen in the workplace. Have a single source of truth so no one fumbles.


We hate failure, but we begrudgingly accept it as a lesson and one that develops us. It helps to look back on challenging times to pinpoint when things went off track. Think about the football player who, perhaps, fumbled right before touchdown, and you’ll likely find he was unintentionally set up to fail much earlier in the game. Find that set-up point, however small, because, in the end, the many small things that go right contribute to a mighty achievement. And the same is true for the things that go wrong.

Whether we talk about football teams losing a big game or a team at work losing a contract, the aftermath must provide for a collaborative workspace under good leadership. Each team member must feel able to come forward with impunity to suggest why something went wrong and how to fix it. Everyone has a chance to communicate and communicating early is the first step to heading off interference on the road to success.

We’re counting down to game day with the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. The talk is that the Eagles are the favorites to win. Unlike Joe Namath, we might not have the faith to predict a winner. Still, without any doubt, the winning team will be the one that has used clear communications, a single source of truth, and who, through equal and collaborative work between leaders and team members, knows how to identify and combat interference. May the best team win!

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