How quickly can the Nebraska team learn?

Shucks. Nebraska lost to Purdue, and now has a 0-4 record for 2018, and hopes of a bowl game are…well…probably gone. So much for the silver bullet, Scott Frost.  Oh wait, I already said there is no silver bullet.

I do, however, see more leadership lessons from Nebraska. Let’s explore “organizational learning,” shall we?  I went to look for a prior article I wrote on organizational learning, because I use the term all the time.  By golly, I haven’t written one, so let’s take a whack now.

My mantra: learning occurs at the individual, team and organizational level, and higher levels of learning are not the sum of the parts.  They are greater and they are shared.  Just because everyone on the team is exceptionally good at their individual role doesn’t mean the team is effective. They may be; they may not be.

If they are, and they haven’t built a collective set of experiences, practiced together, and dissected each and every move to understand why it worked or why it didn’t work, their win is pure luck. Luck may win the game. It doesn’t get you to the national championship.

Scott Frost has repeatedly said, “I know what direction we are going.” My guess is that he’s going to the national championship. And given his record of coaching success, I suspect his experience has told him from the beginning that it ain’t gonna be easy.

Oh, there are some that are ready to give up on Frost already. They just don’t get it. It isn’t about the short-term. It’s about the long-term.  It’s about organizational learning. How can Nebraska’s journey demonstrate the elements of organizational learning? There are several ways.

First things first

Can the individuals on the team learn as a team? Frost has a preferred playing style. You can play power, up-tempo spread, pro, etc. offense and each require different strategies and different execution. Regardless of the offense style, every player on the team must buy into the strategy and execution to make it work.

Do the players all buy in to Frost’s strategy and execution style?  Maybe, but maybe not. Some players may not be able to make the transition, but they have to be given a chance to learn and demonstrate that they “get it.”

At some point buy-in becomes mandatory. Not just “nodding the head” buy-in but caring deeply about the success of the team.

Reading the articles after the game makes me think that not only Frost, but many of the top players know that there are some folks on the team that just ain’t getting it. There comes a point where they gotta go. I kind of hope this is the time.  I think Jim Collins said it best: “Get the right people on the bus,” or in this case, the field.

You gotta have experiences. Together.

Even if those nay-sayers go now, there is still organizational learning to be had. We are who we are, and our decisions are framed by our experiences.

As a team, each experience helps players see what their teammates are capable of, how they think and be able to predict in a nano-second what they will do.

I was incredibly frustrated with the offensive line’s protection of the quarterback at the beginning of the game.  They were letting all those Purdue players have easy access.  The QB is a talented runner, but he couldn’t get through the line.

As the game progressed, he was able to break through on occasion. It was almost as if the offensive line figured out Martinez’ moves and began to predict and react.  That’s organizational learning.

If they do a good job watching the plays and debriefing the actions, they will begin to formalize their strategies.

You’ve got to screw up to learn

Throughout every game, Frost demonstrates quiet stoicism. When the QB is sacked and the camera pans to Frost, he appears calm. When the ball is turned over, you wouldn’t know it by looking at Frost’s expression.

But when a play does something that demonstrates exceptionally poor judgment, like hitting players out of bounds and then being called on unnecessary roughness?  He was angry and the camera showed it. He should have been.

Frost has said that his approach to football is “caring enough to do it right, not just on the field, but in their lives.” From that, he is holding up a picture of a team that wants, not just to win, but to honor the long legacy of the school and the state. He knows that winning comes not just from the plays but from the heart. If you want to hear “heart,” listen to this.

I’m guessing that he spends time on screw ups that contain an opportunity to learn how to do things better.  I’m guessing he doesn’t spend much time on a player that defies the legacy.

You gotta know why you screwed up

Not to beat a dead horse, but any team or organizational action that occurs is a minor piece of the puzzle.  The important parts are what come before – carefully planning – and what comes after – comprehensive debrief.

Every error is a chance to learn, but it has to be collective learning. All of the players have to offer their perspective, listen to others’ and collectively decide how to address future situations. Even successes deserve the same comprehensive debrief. If not, the chance that the success is repeated is severely diminished.

What does this have to do with us ordinary leaders?

Every element of bringing together a winning football team is applicable to any organization or team.  Setting the expectations, holding everyone equally accountable for meeting the expectations and taking swift action when those expectations are not met. Recognizing that team have to have shared experience in order to learn together. And making absolutely sure that the events are dissected and studies to ensure that the team is learning how to move forward together.

I’m running out of room, so I’ll stop here.  I wanted to talk about how important it is for leaders to “stay the course” and believe in their direction, but I’ll save that for another time.

They’re playing at Wisconsin next week.  There will probably be some new lessons.  In all though, this game against Purdue showed promise. There were hints of who they will be. I am pretty confident they’ll get there.

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