Workplace Culture

Team Management: Seahawks vs. Ducks?

By Rick Bell

Jan. 9, 2015

I know that the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the University of Oregon’s Ducks will never, ever, ever face each other on the football field.

Pros vs. college. Gerald Ford was still our president the last time you saw that. The Pittsburgh Steelers, not surprisingly, trounced a collection of college all-stars, 24-0, in the long-defunct Chicago Charities College All-Star Game.

But the Wall Street Journal had an intriguing pro-vs.-college matchup on the back page of its Jan. 8 Personal Journal section. The pair of stories – one on the Seahawks, the other on my team, the Fighting Ducks — analyzed the style of coaching and how players for both teams interact with each other. The first piece — headlined “Why the Seahawks Like Confrontation” was mirrored by “… And the Oregon Ducks Prefer to Avoid It.”

But both teams have playoff games coming up. The Seahawks are home against the Carolina Panthers in the divisional playoffs while the Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes tangle for college’s national championship. And, it’s likely you’ll hear a lot about their styles.

The defending champion Seahawks are a deeply emotional team. As the story notes, “This is perhaps the most emotionally healthy locker room in the NFL.” Why?

As safety Kam Chancellor is quoted: “We are a bunch of alpha males who see each other every day, when there is adversity, whoever sees a mistake, they say something about it.”

That level of honesty and communication among players helped the team through some rough patches during the season and has them flying high — they’re Seahawks, after all — and primed to win it all again.

The Ducks are flying high, too, and primed to win their first-ever national championship. But Oregon coaches, as the story says, don’t believe in yelling at players to motivate them.

“Rather than scream at a player over a dropped pass or a key penalty, Oregon coaches rarely react with anything more than an arm around the shoulder and some gentle words of encouragement,” the story notes.

The Ducks also employ a sort-of horizontal management style among coaches and players. Sure, they’re headed by Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator Scott Frost and defensive coordinator Don Pellum, but, as the story says, “Instead of a chain of command with the head coach at the top, Oregon’s coaches, players and administrators are viewed as equals and collaborators. ‘Every single member of this team is seen as a leader in their own way,’ said center Hroniss Grasu.”

There’s also the whole philosophy of communicating with the millennial generation — and you could argue that some of these players belong to Generation Z, depending on your Gen Y time line. As many workplaces grapple with how to connect with its younger workers, the Ducks’ coaches have discovered that discipline and screaming aren’t synonymous with one another on the football field.

Though led by the always rah-rah “win forever” head coach Pete Carroll, it’s the Seahawks players, led by Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman among others, who largely police and discipline themselves.

Contrasting styles of personnel management coming from the Great Northwest. I’ve got the pizza place on speed dial; I’m not going anywhere until they’re over.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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