How team development in the NFL is like team development in Scouting

The team forms with some awkwardness as members learn their role. Then a thunderstorm of disagreements takes over. Finally, the group starts working as a team and eventually, if all goes well, evolves into a high-performing group.

That could describe a team in the National Football League, or it could describe a group in Scouting.

Today I wanted to analyze how team development in the NFL works a lot like team development in Scouting.

It’s proof that the lessons adults learn in Wood Badge and Scouts and Venturers learn in National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) really do apply outside of our program.

The four stages of team development

Team Development Stages

Team-Development-NFL---2Forming

Description: Like a pile of pickup sticks, everyone’s moving in several directions without any sense of where to go or who does what. Everyone is tentative and polite. Motivation is high, but skills are low.

Major issues: Personal well-being, acceptance and trust

In the NFL: These are the early days of NFL training camp. At this point, many of the players — especially rookies — tread lightly. They’re learning teammates’ names and personalities and motivations. Players may not know what role they’ll be expected to play this season or even whether there’s a spot for them on the team.

In Scouting: Forming can happen at several times in the Scouting year but is most common in the fall as you welcome new young people and adult leaders into the program. New members are eager to be a part of the group, but they won’t know what is expected of them. Some may seek affirmation that they made the right choice by joining your Scout unit. New teams are created all the time within Scouting — new patrols in a troop, new troops created for a jamboree, new crews formed for a high-adventure trip. Each starts at this stage.

Coach/leader’s best strategy: Explaining

Team-Development-NFL---3Storming

Description: The group is at odds with one another. Disagreements are common, and subgroups form that polarize the team. Communication breaks down. Enthusiasm is low, and so are the team’s skills.

Major issues: Power, control and conflict

In the NFL: This one isn’t hard to recognize. Just pick up the newspaper. Fighting within NFL teams is common during training camp, and some sportswriters even consider it an important part of the team development process. Either these writers have taken Wood Badge or they speak from years of observational experience.

In Scouting: No broken jaws here; Storming in Scouting takes on a nonviolent form. Patrols may argue over who should do the dishes or the right way to set up the dining fly. This friction, frustrating as it might be, is almost always going to happen.

Coach/leader’s best strategy: Demonstrating

Team-Development-NFL---4Norming

Description: Issues from Storming are addressed and resolved, boosting morale. Technical skills increase, and there’s more clarity, trust and cohesion. Team members start saying “we” more than “I.” Enthusiasm is rising, and skills are improving.

Major issues: Sharing of control and avoidance of conflict

In the NFL: Having survived the storm, the team has gotten better. With direction from their coach, they practiced and practiced and might have won a game or two. Their enthusiasm and motivation have risen, but there’s a lot of work to do. The good thing is, they know what they need to do to continue to improve.

In Scouting: Skills are growing, and the team is becoming better at working together. Campouts are more successful, and meetings run more smoothly. The group may vacillate between Storming and Norming for a while, but now they’re better equipped to weather storms and keep moving ahead.

Coach/leader’s best strategy: Guiding

Team-Development-NFL---5Performing

Description: Productivity and morale are high. Purpose, roles and goals are clear. Mutual respect and trust abound. The team is functioning at its top level.

Major issues: Continued refinements and growth

In the NFL: This is where every NFL coach wants to be. The team’s deep into the season, winning some and losing some. Whatever the outcome, enthusiasm and skill are high, so the coach is happy. Players know their role, they know how to succeed each week and they’re excited that everything is finally clicking. Not every high-performing team becomes a Super Bowl champion, but every Super Bowl champion is a high-performing team.

In Scouting: These are the really successful patrols within a troop. They resolve difficulties and find effective ways to get things done. They’re confident in their ability to perform tasks and to overcome obstacles. They have a sense of pride in belonging to a successful team, and they enjoy working together. Trust and respect is high.

Coach/leader’s best strategy: Enabling

Other notes

  • The stages of team development aren’t a one-way street. Regression is possible. Over the course of a 16-game season or a 12-month Scouting year, a high-performing team may suffer a setback that causes them to storm again. A good leader watches out for this and strives for continual improvement to maintain high performance.
  • Every team, even one that has been together for years, goes through Forming when its members set off to learn a new skill or reach a new goal. You could argue that every week during the NFL season offers a new chance for Forming, and every new campout in Scouting does the same.

All photos from Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved by Barry.LenardSome rights reserved by photo-gatorSome rights reserved by storyspinnSome rights reserved by jpeepzSome rights reserved by Anthony Quintano.


About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.