I’m not a sports fan, really. I mean I watch the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the World Series… sort of. american footballI just root for whoever Tom’s rooting for. It’s easier that way. So, I have no good explanation for the amount of sports analogies I’ve been using lately but here goes another one because, well, that’s just what showed up this week.

I received an email from a corporate client outlining the next steps on a potential project we may be doing together. It read, “Sounds good. Sending invite. Thanks, Katherine. We will definitely be ahead of the ball. Can email after we meet to keep up traction and then maybe set up another meeting in early Jan and still have sufficient time to call audibles if need be.” I read it twice but had no idea what that meant. I decided to see if Tom could guess. He did more than guess. Sports fan that he is, he knew exactly what it meant.

Audibles, he explained, were a quarterback’s way of changing their mind at the last minute and making sure his team knew the change was coming. Using a set of predetermined signals or audibles, the quarterback could change the play that was called in the huddle if he gets to the line of scrimmage and doesn’t like what he sees from the defense or wants to take advantage of a weakness he sees in the defensive line.

As it relates to business agility, the idea of audibles intrigued me. Many dental, healthcare, and service-related teams have a morning meeting or “huddle” to plan for their day… but it doesn’t always go like that. Sometimes, they notice an opportunity to do something different than planned or to offer something different to a client. Signaling to the rest of the team and having them understand is a must. Even further, having the authority and the autonomy to call the audible is essential if teams want to take full advantage of this idea.

In researching “audibles,” I ran across this advice from Wayne Anderson, a receiver’s coach at Waynesburg College. “At any time, my quarterback could take advantage of the weakness that he saw in the defense and make the appropriate audible or stay with the play that was called. Very few times did I ever tell my quarterback to run the play called no matter what. However, after the play was over, the quarterback would have to explain to me why he made the audible call that he did. “I don’t know” was never an acceptable answer. This gave me the opportunity to critique and make any corrections that were needed at that time. The most important thing about any audible system is not what you know as a coach, but what your players know. Your players must understand the situations when an audible can be called. Finally, in my opinion, live with your players making athletic decisions when it comes to audibles. Even Colts quarterback Peyton Manning makes a bad audible call once in a while. But his coaches allow him to be an athlete and that’s how I want my players to be: agile athletes.”

My takeaways? Have the huddle and make your best plan with what you know but train your people to know when and how to “call an audible” should things go differently than planned or opportunities present themselves… which they will. Be sure to debrief your audibles at your team meetings making sure that people give the reason for calling the change and don’t accept an “I don’t know” answer. Also, make sure your team knows that an occasional bad call will be made. We’re all human and we expect them to happen on teams that are growing and elevating their skills. We’ll all learn from these mistakes because what we want most of all is to develop a team of smart, self-directed, capable, agile business athletes.

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“You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world,
but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
Babe Ruth

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