What Football and IT Organizations Have in Common

Like football, running an IT organization is a team sport. Every member of each respective group—not just the quarterback or the CIO—has an important role to play.

New York Jets, Rex Ryan

By Larry Bonfante

September may be my favorite time of the year. In addition to the adrenaline rush of running the U.S. Open, it’s also the beginning of the football season. As an avid football fan, I can hardly wait for the first Sunday of the season to dive into the action of the NFL, in particular the ups and downs of the New York Jets (as well as track my fantasy team!).

One of the reasons that I really enjoy football is the many parallels between football and running an IT organization. First of all, running a professional organization, just like football, is truly a team sport. Many football fans focus primarily on the play of their team's elite quarterback. While it is exciting to watch Peyton Manning throw yet another touchdown pass, I would argue that this is just one small aspect of what makes a team successful. Take, for instance, Tom Brady who may arguably be one of the two best quarterbacks ever (as a Jets fan, it hurts me to write that!). While Brady is a brilliant field general and seems to make everyone around him raise his game, guess what happens if his left tackle misses a blocking assignment? Yes, Brady ends up on the turf, wishing he had stayed at home with Giselle! You see, no matter how gifted your quarterback may be, they are only effective if every member of the team plays his position well and are accountable for their assignment on any given play.

Another similarity is the way quarterbacks and CIOs get treated by "the experts." Both quarterbacks and CIOs get way too much credit when things go well. I always tell people when my team or I win an award that I’m just the guy who gets to stand up and accept the award, but that the team did the hard work to deserve it. Conversely, they often take way too much of the blame when things go poorly. Last year, poor Eli Manning took a pounding both on the football field and in the press when the truth is that his offensive line had more holes than a slice of airy Swiss cheese and the Giants lacked a solid running game. Sometimes a new CIO doesn’t have the operational team in place yet to stabilize services. Rest assured, he or she will get an ear full from "the experts." Yet, great CIOs, like great quarterbacks, take full accountability for the losses even when they may not be their fault. (For more thoughts about CIOs and quarterbacks, read my CIO Insight article "How a Great CIO is Like a Great Quarterback.")

Also, like a football team, good IT organizations have to be adept at playing both defense and offense. Defense is ensuring that you have the operational excellence required to develop the credibility needed to be viewed as a business partner. This, in turn, enables you to be proactive and play offense by taking prudent risks to drive the innovation engine and find ways to leverage information and technology to serve as a difference maker for your business.

Finally, like a championship football team, the members of a great IT organization are willing to subjugate their personal statistics and agendas for the greater good of the team. The only thing that matters in football is winning the Super Bowl, as opposed to being a quarterback who has great stats on a team that always misses the playoffs. As legendary Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing!"

Photo: New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and players during a team practice. Photo courtesy of New York Jets.

About the Author

Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.

To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Anticipate Your Customers' Future Desires," click here.

This article was originally published on 09-03-2014
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