Thursday, August 16, 2012

Science, Not Speculation: Why Terrell Will Fail

In this economy, getting hired is always good news, and T.O.’s got a new job with the Seattle Seahawks. Good for him, but the pundits are already buzzing in expectation of the drama that is sure to follow.

Let’s face it: this tremendous talent hasn’t worked well on his teams, and history is likely to repeat itself. I submit his work history for your consideration, including some of the reasons (information from Wikipedia) for his leave-taking:
  • San Francisco 49ers (1996–2003): spat with 49ers front office members
  • Philadelphia Eagles (2004–2005): made negative remarks about Eagles management and teammate Donovan McNabb, suspended four games without pay, deactivated for the rest of the season, released
  • Dallas Cowboys (2006–2008): after feeling assured he would be remaining with the team, felt blindsided by his release
  • Buffalo Bills (2009): one year contract only
  • Cincinnati Bengals (2010): placed on injured reserve, not re-signed
  • Allen Wranglers (2012): released after season’s end

In addition, Owens’ checkerboard career has been repeatedly marred by the badmouthing of team members, coaches, and management, gloating over opposing team losses (what used to be called ‘poor sportsmanship’), and public displays of inappropriate behavior, including the celebration his own moves while downgrading the successes of his teammates.

So, although he is arguably the most talented wide receiver of his generation and a future NFL hall-of-famer, his stay with the Seahawks will likely be yet another short chapter in the life of Terrell Owens.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Hint: it’s not the talent, it’s the teaming.

What does it take to be teamable? Of course, you have to start out with the talents, the skills, and the drive that the job demands. In the case of football, I could be a fabulous team player, but only on a team of all petite women. And they’d have to scale down the size of the gridiron, too. But I digress. The kind of team player you are boils down to three central aspects of ‘Teamability.’

First, are you playing in the right position? Our research on team interaction demonstrated that most people align themselves with a very specific way of contributing to their team. If their job responsibilities are a good match with this intrinsic ‘Role,’ their team contributions will be consistent and their experience of working with others will be generally positive.  Also, people whose work provides a clear sense of ‘Role-fit’ will not only enjoy what they, personally, are doing, they will also tend to gain in understanding and appreciation of the Roles of others on their team. When the team challenge is at the level of NFL football, there needs to be a very high level of ‘Role-fit’ and ‘Team-fit.’ Individual achievement is not enough. You may get recognized for the most yards-per-carry, or sacks, or whatever, but such rankings, by themselves, rarely add up to winning that huge gold and diamond ring. Getting to the Super Bowl requires consistent, flawless interaction with your teammates, both on and off the field. And that includes respecting each one of them the way they best experience respect and appreciation.

Second, how do you deal with stress? It’s part of life, but it is amped-up to the max when you’re in the red zone, there are no more time-outs, and team performance on the next play will make the difference between making the playoffs and heading home for the winter. Pro ball is nothing but stressful. (Why do you think players are paid so much?) You are under constant scrutiny, and subject to the relentless expectations of the owners, the coaches, the fans, and even yourself. A crucial element, which we call Coherence, defines the connection between stress and performance in team situations: some people ‘pull away’ when they feel stress, and some people pull together.

Third, how well do you blend with the prevailing culture of your team? The effects of ‘Teaming Characteristics’ can be subtle, because they are not limited to the ‘inner circle’. Everyone who is invested in the team’s success, from the coaches and support staff, to general management, the local media, and the ever-present fans, creates the teaming environment. Each player will have ‘TC’s that mesh well, and others that may not. This knowledge can be leveraged by coaches and staff in helping team members to ‘be their best selves’ in both good and bad situations.

Sad to say, T.O., for all his talent, just doesn’t fare well in the dimension of Teamability. If you’ve ever hired, or worked with, someone who had a great resume, but turned out to be toxic on your team, you’ll have a pretty good idea what it’s like to try to team with Terrell. So pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. T.O. will not be staying long in the Emerald City.