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Philadelphia Eagles: a Lesson in Building a High-Performance Team

Philadelphia Eagles: a Lesson in Building a High-Performance Team

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

This past professional football season exemplified who we are. The average person in this region of the northeast will cheer for any of our sports teams – Eagles, Phillies or Flyers – whether they are winning or losing. We don’t switch loyalties when the going gets tough!

When I was growing up, my father called this attitude “having heart” and “being a diehard fan.” You don’t give up…you keep coming back. When others doubt, we stay focused and march on. We understand who we are because we have a strong foundation. We are a force to be reckoned with. If you want to come after us, we will respond, “Bring it on!”

It’s a cultural thing.

Creating a High-Performance Team Isn’t Always about Rational Thinking

I love that challenge “Bring it on!” because that is what happened in the Super Bowl this year. The Philadelphia Eagles, a team that had never won the “big one” and was an underdog all season, was naturally predicted to lose the Super Bowl. The odds against an upset win grew when the Eagles lost their starting quarterback.

It wasn’t until after the game that I learned how some of the newer members of the Eagles approached the game that they were “destined” to lose. As I heard story after story, I was in awe.

For me, their story transcended sports. It was the best model for how to build a winning team. It’s the new norm for a team that had never won a Super Bowl.

Newsflash: Winning is not always about thinking rationally. If it were, the New England Patriots would have won. They had the better stats, including a record 10 appearances and five wins in the Super Bowl.

People didn’t expect the Eagles to win for any number of reasons, including the history of the head coach and some of his players. For example:

  • Doug Pederson was only in his second season as head coach. About a decade or so ago, he was coaching high school football.
  • Nick Foles, the Eagles backup quarterback, was the MVP of the Super Bowl. He had been traded by the Eagles and was planning to quit football before he was brought back to Philadelphia.
  • Eagles running back Corey Clemonts was passed over at the NFL draft last spring.
  • Eagles running back Jay Ajayi had problems with the Miami Dolphins coaches and was traded to Philadelphia.
  • Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount played for the New England Patriots in 2016 and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. But the Patriots wanted to cut his pay, so he too ended up in Philadelphia.

Creating a High-Performance Team is about More than Hiring Superstars

What’s the moral of this story? You may want to forget what you’ve learned about creating a high-performance team. There’s no guarantee that your superstars can win for you.

Instead, look for team members with heart. These people may sometimes be the “overlooked” or the “outcasts.” Teach them to depend on one another to get the job done (teamwork) and have a “humble servant” leader. That’s a coach who is bold enough to believe in himself or herself. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does.

Sometimes, you need extra motivation. The Eagles took the negative energy of their reputation as losers and turned it into a positive by sporting T-shirts with the slogan “Underdog.”

They flaunted their reputation as underdogs and used it as a motivation for teamwork. That’s a formula for success and a winning model.

In the words of Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, “THIS is our new norm.” Pederson intends to stay focused on his passion – winning.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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