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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Parts of the system must remain in balance, April 20, 2007, 7C.

Many football fans are eagerly awaiting the results of the upcoming NFL draft.  Teams will take turns selecting players from a pool of talented college athletes.  Teams will also trade their draft picks with others in hopes of building high-performing offensive, defensive, and special teams units.  Teams will select draftees with the hopes of strengthening the weaknesses of their teams and enhancing the strengths.  Teams are built with the selection of individual players.

Football is a team sport.  Players must function as a single unit in order to succeed.  Weak players can create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by opposing teams.  However, overly strong players can also be harmful to team performance.  A running back who does not wait for his linemen to execute his blocks will be ineffective and harm the team’s performance.  Likewise, punters who outkick their coverage can also harm the performance of their teams.  Sometimes individual players have to back off of their optimal performances to enhance the overall team performance—other times, they have to exceed their normal abilities. 

In addition to blending with other players, it is critically important that all the players successfully carry out their own responsibilities.  Teams are composed of players who fill different roles, or positions.  The specific responsibilities of players vary on each play.  A lineman who misses a block, a defensive back who misses a tackle, or a kicker who misses a field goal all harm the performance of their teams.  Losing one’s cool and committing a personal foul also harms the whole team.  Team success requires individual players to fulfill their individual responsibilities and meld their performances with those of other players.  

During the draft, some of the most talented players may be passed up for selection because their talents do not match the needs of teams.  The players whose talents and skills match the specific needs of teams will be selected.  Teams with outstanding offensive talent will likely pass over drafting offensive players in favor of defensive or special teams players—even when the most talented players in the draft are offensive players.

The examples just described are applications of systems theory.  A system is made up of interdependent and interacting elements that function together to form a whole.  Systems are purposeful and are simultaneously made up of subsystems and are parts of supersystems.  All organizations are systems.  Individuals must fulfill their role responsibilities with attention to the performances of others in the organization.  Care must be taken to balance the performances of individuals and units with others in the organization.  Over-performing elements can be just as unbalancing to an organization as those that are under-performing.  A balance between all interdependent elements must be gained and maintained—including interactions with suppliers and consumers.  Managers must be able to shift attention and resources to and away from elements to bring about balance and to foster optimal organizational performance.  NFL coaches and owners understand these principles, and so should managers of all other types of organizations.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved