The Myth of Collaboration

It probably is no longer accurate to describe the Seahawks front office as a train wreck. Train wrecks are a finite occurrence, eventually they stop. This thing has stretched on for the last two+ seasons, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. The clown car that is the Seahawks front office just got a little wackier. It is not even possible to read between the lines anymore because they are so scrambled, M.C. Escher would be confused. One thing that triggered my cringe reflex was reading about how Leiweke is committed to managing the collaborative decision making across the myriad of front office roles.

I have never played organized football. I have never hired an executive. I have never paid someone a kajillion dollars. One thing I have done is manage some of the most complex projects in the software industry. I have inherited and overseen some of the most convoluted management structures one could imagine where literally dozens of high-ranking officials believed they owned each decision. There was always a lot of talk about collaboration and “doing the right thing for the business.” What I learned was that collaboration should be used as way to generate and/or validate ideas, it should never be used as a decision-making model. Defined authority equals defined accountability, and vice versa.

How many people will need to be involved when the moment of truth arrives for a free agent offer? Can our new GM make that decision on his own? Will he need to run it by Carroll? What about Leiweke? What will the velocity of our decision making be? Will players know who decides what?

“My job will be to synthesize that group,” Leiweke said. “But everybody is going to sign on to a plan where they’re going to work together.”

He went on to say, “We’re going to have collaboration on the draft. Our general manager will hear from Pete, and that’s a really important thing. And that’s really how we wanted to set this up. There’s two kinds of tension, good tension and bad tension. We’re going to set this up where there’s good tension where people are weighing in and we’re talking and we’re communicating. “No one person will sit in judgment of sweeping issues.”Those words should make every Seahawks fan shudder. We now are left to hope that this wackado structure magically forms into a functioning whole, where the left arm and legs belong to one person, the right arm and heart belong to another and the brain is spliced across all three. Dr. Frankenstein failed with such experiments dozens of times, and his “success” killed people. Hawks fans will soon be saying, “Rise….RIIIIISSE,” to more than just our battered QB.

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  1. Feel free to read elsewhere. However, my post has very little to do with football. It's about decision making and executive structure. Those are two things I know very well. Football in the NFL is a business. People in charge make similar mistakes regardless of what type of business they are running.

  2. I appreciate your insights HB and always have. I would caution though comparing computer/software/IT folks with football. In my experience those folks are not traditionally "people" oriented. Very smart, don't always get emotions, relationships, and playing well with others. I know I'm generalizing here but I've not met an adept one yet (no offense intended to you or those you work with). Pete Carroll, is by all accounts, a people person. He played football in college, yes, but he also was in a fraternity and his undergrad degree is in Biz Admin. I've seen this structure work in various types of companies where folks are intelligent, respectful, and savvy in relationships. Part of the issue with Holmgren and Ruskell was the absolute rigidity with which both wanted control with a side of hot temper. While I love The Big Show, at times that temper rubbed some in the upper structures the wrong way and he butted heads and ultimately lost the war. What I enjoy both about Holmgren and Carroll is they are dynamic and you feel drawn in by them, sort of an "it" factor that a good leader makes. I'm not convinced it will work but I trust Paul Allen–it's his team, his $$, and his decision and I think ultimately, if it doesn't work, he's willing to make the hard decisions even if they are not popular.

  3. hey hawkgirl, decision making is industry agnostic in my experience. No matter what you are doing in business, ultimately, someone needs to make a decision. Any time a decision requires a consensus of more than one person, you are automatically slower. That can, in some cases, be made up for by being right more often due to a more diverse analysis, but the decision making models I see work give you the best of both worlds.

    In the current structure, let's look at draft day. We're at pick #6. The clock is winding down. New England calls with a trade offer. Time is ticking. Discussion in the ware room ensues. Everyone contributes their thoughts. The moment of truth arrives. Who makes the ultimate call? If you don't know that before the situation arises, you are doomed to inefficiency and a lack of accountability. If you *do* know the answer to that, then you still are getting the collaboration aspect where everyone gives their opinion, but you also get the efficiency and accountability of a single final decision maker.

    This is just one particular decision. Now expand out to ALL the decisions that are made in a football operation across the President, GM and Coaching roles. Are all of those clearly defined, or will they figure it out as they go?

    I'd also bring up something I read in your post a while back about permissive parenting and lack of boundaries leading to problems with kids. When people don't know their boundaries and expectations clearly, it often leads to confusion, unhappiness and doubt.

    All that said, I agree that a "people" person can help smooth these sorts of grey areas, and Carroll appears to be that. I'd just rather his energy be spent on doing the best to meet the clearly outlined expectations of his role instead of on figuring out exactly what that role is.

  4. HB, good points all and a wonderful explanation of how things could go horribly really quickly. What it all really comes down to is who they pick as GM. Is it a Carroll guy? Is it a Leiweke guy or guy easily influenced by Leiweke? The power will shift based on that equation and this is the real battle (and very important) at hand. Until that is done, it's hard to know how it will pan out even in the short term.

    I get the feeling that PC is "the guy" and will think that unless a non Carroll guy takes over at GM. He didn't give up USC for nothing. He'll lose the power, much like Holmgren did, if he doesn't win.

    I know this is ridiculously hopeful but I have fingers crossed that this is an outlier situation. I have to hold on to that because if I embrace the two "facts" that college coaches don't win in the NFL and the possible horrible role structure you cover, it means our team is doomed. And right now, I can't go there. I mean, what is my option? Give up the seats, unbookmark the blog, and become a fan of….? Or hope for the best case–that Carroll comes in and the GM is a fit, that there is chemistry within the FO, that the players respond, that we win or see signs of effort, execution, future promise.

    I'm going with the latter for now.

    Know that I SO appreciate your thoughts and this interaction. You are usually right but in this instance, I hope you are dead wrong (original thoughts and fears).

    Is it sad that I even care?

  5. Oh no! I certainly wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from being a fan. This is all part of it for me. 🙂 I never stopped being a Mariners fan during the Bavasi years or a Blazers fan during the Whitsitt years. I definitely followed them from more of a distance, but always cared.

    I don't think anyone can say that the Hawks are headed in the right or the wrong direction. Hell, we could have hired Bill Cowher or Tony Dungy and I'd have reservations. Truthfully, only Mike Holmgren, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick would have made me feel secure. Guys that have done it time and again.

    No matter what, I'm keeping my tix and going to all the games. Hell, things going south can be beneficial as well when it comes to getting better seats and ticket prices!! 🙂

    The best news of all is we are set for a killer draft. As long as we don't do some Lamar King debacle on a kid nobody thinks is worth the #6 or #14 pick, we should get two really good players, and that's what I really care about.

  6. You know, it's like a romance or a marriage, with kids involved. You know why you fell in love (Steve Largent captured me when I lived in Texas), you remember the romantic moments (Paul Allen raising the 12th man flag), but there is also difficulty with any relationship. There are fights (team almost goes to LA, horrible seasons), heartbreaks (Holmgren leaves, this past two seasons) and moments you wish like anything you didn't care. But it's hard to give up on something that feels so core to who you are. My husband and I have been to every home game since 2004, the year we moved here permanently. We traveled to Chicago and Green Bay. We've done out of town games in Cleveland and Chicago as well. The games have become part of our relationship so it's tied to my personal life.

    The thing that makes me buy in to what you're saying is that all the other blogs would be total homers over the team and you'd be the voice of reason and be dead on with your apprehensions. So, you're probably right on, I just am hanging on by my fingernails that this turns out to be the right move.

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