Bobby Orr, Flag Football and Building a Team

The following is from guest writer, Ed Russo.

As a youth sports volunteer coach, I have the ominous task of drafting 9 & 10 year old children to field a competitive flag football team. These young people are rated based on performance and that ranking list is provided to the coaches so they can select their team. As thorough as the ranking system may be, it is only when we have our team in front of us on the field that we can determine how to best utilize the talent we have chosen.

Leaders go through the same type of process when hiring new employees or assembling a project team. Once on board, we must define each employee’s role and make sure the skill set matches the position. Through annual performance assessments and ongoing coaching sessions, tweaks can be made to your lineup.

Bobby Orr in his memoir My Story reflects on his ten-year professional hockey career where he won two championships (1970 & 1972) and several individual excellence awards. He was the first offensive defenseman and may be the greatest ever. The season before he won his first Stanley Cup championship, Bobby recognized his team had some deficiencies.

At that moment in the Spring of 1969, we simply weren’t ready yet to be winners. To win a Stanley cup, or any championship in any major sport, for that matter, you have to be ready. By that I mean you have to have the right players in the right spots, the right coaching, as well as a little bit of luck. Without all those pieces in place, you can’t become a champion.

When we apply Bobby Orr’s definition of “ready” to the workplace we see how important it is to have the right people working together under the direction of an engaged and enlightened leader. This is reminiscent of the ideas proposed 13 years ago when Jim Collins’ acclaimed book Good to Great was first published, stressing the importance of “who” is doing the work.

You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision. In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

Are the people on the bus your priority? Does everyone have each other’s back or are they more concerned with throwing people under the bus? Bobby Orr experienced the ultimate success when all of the pieces were in the right places:

It may be impossible to say what makes a team a team. Coaches and GMs look for ‘chemistry,’ but there is no formula. Sometimes a group of guys will come together and they will want to win for each other. They will anticipate each other’s moves, they will have each other’s backs, and they will know what role they have to play. It was important that everyone knew his role… Those Bruins teams had such great chemistry – we didn’t even have a captain between the end of my rookie season (1966-67) and the fall of 1973.

What does being a championship team look like in your company? Technology may have changed your work processes but do your employees have the skills to do the new work? We are reliant upon brick and mortar buildings lined with cubicles and inspirational posters, but is that what appeals to your workforce? Get the right people and the other problems are easier to solve. My 9 & 10 year olds are on board. Do you want to scrimmage?


Ed Russo is the Program Manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Ed works with educators, law enforcement, community leaders, and government officials to implement child safety resources into schools and communities across the country. Through presentations and trainings, Ed provides participants with information about how safety resources can help prevent the victimization of children. Prior to joining the Center he was a Human Resources Manager in a Florida County Clerk’s Office and has over 18 years of teaching experience. Ed is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a BS degree in Education and coaches a tremendous flag football team.

Ed can be contacted through Twitter and LinkedIn.