The Seahawks are a walking case study in why culture matters

Professional sports teams are interesting organizations. Yes, our focus is usually on cheering for our favorite team, yet these same teams and the infrastructure around them are often like any other complex company. They have a culture. And how they behave gives interesting insights into that culture and what contributes – even drives – team performance.

Culture does matter. In the NFL, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have been hapless for many a year while teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and (sigh) the New England Patriots have been synonymous with playoff appearances and more. How those organizations choose to conduct their business influences quite a bit of what we see on the field.

Take the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve been interested in their culture since their different way of doing things first got attention in the months before their Super Bowl victory. Their prominent use of a sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, also caught my eye. Even the consulting company created by Gervais and Coach Pete Carroll significantly influences the cultural of client companies with a holistic approach to personal development, similar to how they work with the Seahawks (listen to Carroll on Gervais’ podcast for more related insight).

That background was lurking in my subconscious last night as I tracked what the Seahawks are doing in the 1st round of the NFL draft. They had pick #21 thanks to their finish last season and pick #29 after trading their star defensive end, Frank Clark, to the Kansas City Chiefs in the days leading up to the draft.

As I tracked developments and digested the post-first round media coverage (the remaining rounds of the draft are today and tomorrow), it hit me how what the Seahawks did wholly aligned with their organizational culture. Here’s how:

They’re realists.

Trading Frank Clark was bittersweet. A young, emerging force in the NFL but, one due a huge contract. There are only so many of those any organization can give out and the Seahawks just paid Quarterback Russell Wilson, big time, and need to pay All-Pro Linebacker Bobby Wagner soon as well…among others. Yet, they were clear they wanted to keep the talented Clark. What happened?

Dallas re-signing their own defensive line star, Demarcus Lawrence, raised the market price for leading defensive ends too high for Seattle’s planned budget and the Kansas City Chiefs offered great trade value for Clark. Thus, “we had to help the team and do what’s right for the organization.”

Team first, not emotions.

They’re authentic.

Fans of the Seahawks know the team has its quirks. Carroll and GM John Schneider have specific types of players they want. Often they have unique physical characteristics for their respective positions that fits the Seahawks’ scheme. Usually they have a chip on their shoulder for one reason or another. It’s not uncommon for draft and talent analysts in the NFL to take a different view of some players than the Seahawks, sometimes scoffing at their choices. The Seahawks don’t care.

Which is why after trading down from the 21st pick, the descriptions of who they picked at #29 was not surprisingly someone who very much fits the Seahawks mold: defensive lineman LJ Collier.

Analyst Brian Baldinger raved about Collier as a brawny, on-the-field performer, disregarding the “stupid underwear stats in Indianapolis” as Collier didn’t perform exceptionally at the annual NFL Combine, which might dissuade some traditional scouts.

Longtime NFL scout and head of the Senior Bowl, Jim Nagy, saw the same thing. Collier shows up on the field:

And guess what, Collier has a chip on his shoulder:

Sounds like a Seahawk to me.

They’re focused.

And they stick to the plan. John Schneider likes having lots of picks in the Draft, spread across its 7 rounds. Carroll and Schneider have made a name for themselves in finding high quality NFL talent deep into the later parts of the draft.

Even after the trade with the Chiefs for Clark, Seattle still started the Draft only 5 picks: those two 1st rounders, plus one each in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds.

Virtually the entire NFL knew they were likely to try to trade down at some point. And they did. First out of #21, for which they received a different first rounder, #30, plus two more 4th round picks.

Thus, the Seahawks found themselves sitting on back-to-back picks, 29 and 30, with other teams who wanted to move up to snag a player they wanted falling later than expected in the 1st round knowing the Seahawks were likely willing to trade again.

The potential result? A lot of chaos.

Yet Seattle got their pick at 29 in Collier and traded down again with the New York Giants, this time swapping #30 for picks in the 2nd, 4th, and 5th rounds:

You achieve your goals by being able to stay focused in times of challenge.

They execute.

The Seahawks focus on the plan led to the actions they likely wanted in drafting a player they desire and trading down to secure more picks. But what were the actual results of those actions?

Besides the potential fit of Collier as a Seahawk, after trading down twice Seattle functionally converted the 21st pick in the Draft into a high second round pick, 3 more 4th round picks, and another 5th round pick too. The team with only 5 draft picks before trading Clark now has 8 picks remaining in rounds 2 – 7 even after picking Collier in the first round.

They got what they wanted and they got high value. For the first trade:

And for the second trade:

To be fair, various teams value things different ways, including based on desires for specific players. What’s clear either way is the Seahawks executed against their game plan and got results.

They may well trade down again (or up) in the remaining rounds of this Draft. Not all the players they select will work out. It will take years to assess if this Draft was good or bad for the Seahawks in terms of who succeeds on their roster.

What is clear is the Seahawks have a culture as an organization. It’s specific and unique; and they live up to it. And their performance yesterday was visible proof. That’s fun to see, be that in sports, business, or otherwise.

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