Accomplish More by Building ‘Legacy Teams’

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2011

From the NFL to the business world, winning teams share these eight traits.

I have heard the word “team” used thousands of times since leaving the NFL in 1988 and entering the corporate world. Based on my experience, CEOs, presidents, managers, and front-line employees use the word without really knowing how a true team behaves or what it can accomplish.

I have also observed that you shouldn’t leave building a team to chance because people could form their own team without you. To create a winning team, you need to be intentional in everything you do. I will be writing about building optimal-performance teams in a series of four columns this year.

In this first column I will explain the eight characteristics of these groups, which I call legacy teams. I learned about legacy teams from great coaches during my 22 years of playing competitive sports and have been fortunate to be able to establish a second career teaching corporate clients how to build legacy teams.

Many have adopted these concepts into their cultures with great success, including sites of the legendary Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts, Marriott, and Shell Oil. These clients and others have come to realize that being a team means more than working under the banner of your company name.

In general, I have observed these four types of teams in sports and in business: in name only, good teams, great teams, and legacy teams. When I ask audiences how many have been on a great team, the people raising their hands tend to evaluate a great team based on tangible criteria, such as winning the championship or having the leading scorer.

But legacy teams are much more than that. The eight characteristics of a legacy team are:

1. Formation of lifetime friendships. Inevitably, years pass, and teams disband. On a legacy team, lifetime friendships form based on deep mutual respect and love. Recently at Orlando International Airport, I spotted a former college teammate whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years. We saw each other from across the concourse and immediately made a beeline to each other and embraced. Nothing mattered at that moment except that we were legacy teammates at the University of Washington and have a deep mutual respect and enduring love for one another.

2. A shared purpose, commitment, and enthusiasm. Because a legacy team is so unified in mission and focus, it becomes an inner circle that is selective, restrictive, and limited to team members. You could have a hard time explaining how deeply you feel about your legacy team members and team experience to your spouse, your neighbor, or your friends outside of work. People often say to me, “That sounds pretty exclusive,” and my response is, “Exactly!” That’s what it’s supposed to be — exclusive!These next two go together:

3. and 4. There is an accountability, personal responsibility, and reliability for the work that needs to be done. Legacy teammates desire never to let each other down. It is abhorrent to do so. Thus, you will never see a legacy team where your most talented members aren’t your hardest workers.

5. Good pride. What is good pride? Good pride is when teammates understand that the sum is always greater than any individual part, and are invested in each other with care and concern that overrides selfish attitudes and individual accomplishments. The opposite, of course, is bad pride. Bad pride is false pride and breeds a sense of entitlement — where rules don’t apply to me, or all that matters is what I get out of it.

6. Quiet confidence. My friend and former college teammate at the University of Washington, Jimmy Mora (former head coach of the NFL Seattle Seahawks) said that the first thing he always teaches his teams is the concept of quiet confidence, meaning, “We know we’re good, but we will show it well; we will walk with class and humility.” The last two characteristics of a legacy team are the lynchpins:

7. Built around the committed. A legacy team allows only the committed on their team. No selective participants allowed. Selective participants are those who form subgroups and cliques and have their own niches. The committed understand that we are all in this canoe together, all rowing in the same direction, with all we have to give. Legacy team members are all-in, going all-out.

8. All roles are honored as equal. If you’re a sales executive who is out front and receives the bigger paycheck, remember that those people who work in the office, who answer the phones, who are marketing the business, are equally important. 

An NFL quarterback is considered by nearly everyone to be the most difficult job in all sports. The quarterback receives the credit for winning and the adulation from fans for doing so. He is the star of the team.

However, the offensive linemen who protects the quarterback rarely see their names in print and go unnoticed by the average fan. Yet, they are the backbone of the team. The offensive line — which hustles, scraps, and fights in the trenches to keep their quarterback standing up-right — are equally important.

This is a broad-brush picture of what a legacy team is all about. Becoming one is extremely hard work, and there is a tremendous amount of “me” that needs to be given up for the “we” of the team. Yet organizations and teams that commit to becoming legacy teams are rewarded tenfold with deeper relationships, better performance, and improved bottom-line results. 

Tom Flick is President of Tom Flick Communications and The Legacy Coaches, Inc., based in Redmond, Wash. Tom, a former All-American and NFL quarterback, speaks to more than 100,000 men and women each year on high-performance strategies for leadership teamwork, change, and personal growth. For more information, please visit or call 1-888-829-8400.

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