Everyone who saw the BCS National Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama was talking about “The Shove” for weeks afterward. In most of the discussion, they worried about the wrong things. The real story has important implications about how to run a business successfully.
Why did Barrett Jones and A.J. McCarron get into that embarrassing argument in the fourth quarter, even though Alabama was clearly in control and would win the game?
Now please don’t get me wrong. Shoving someone on national television or even in front of others inside your business is not what I’m recommending. That’s embarrassing. But what was behind it – a genuine trust for one another, and a willingness to confront one another on a less than stellar effort – is part of why Alabama has such a consistent winning streak.
In a nutshell, at the root of healthy teams, whether sports teams or corporate teams, is trust among the leaders. Trust leads to healthy conflict, according to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni notes that conflict leads to full discussion, full discussion leads to commitment by the team to a goal and strategy, commitment leads to accountability, and accountability leads to results.
While many commentators and news outlets missed the point in their analysis of “The Shove”, some of them got it right. Here are what a few had to say about the healthy conflict between Jones and McCarron. Diartsport.com wrote:
AJ McCarron and Barrett Jones push and shove each other during on-field argument Seeing two teammates get into a physical argument on the field is never a good sign, and is often confusing. When two teammates get into a physical argument when they are winning in the National Championship game by a considerable margin is almost unfathomable; especially because these two are roommates and good friends. I have never seen anything like this, too bad we will never know what they actually said to each other. They appeared to make-up [sic] on the field right after, but it just shows how competitive everyone on Alabama really is.
Chase Goodbread of The Tuscaloosa News had this to say about it:
As for the shove he received from Jones in the final minutes after a delay-of-game penalty, McCarron said the incident was quickly forgotten.
“Just two guys trying to be the best. That’s it,” he said.
Said Jones: “Everyone is freaking out about that. We were trying to bleed the clock a little bit, so we got up to the line of scrimmage and there wasn’t much time left so we shifted, and I had to recall it, and he got a little bit frustrated and went to the nearest person, which happened to be me. It was no big deal. That’s just how our relationship is.”
And finally, here are additional comments from Associated Press which include a spot-on tweet from Kobe Bryant:
McCarron has had plenty of spats with Jones, the leader of an offensive line that kept his jersey virtually spotless in the finale: No sacks, not even an official quarterback hurry on the stat sheet. That stuff happens with motivated competitors in such close quarters.
Whatever the case, the shove earned praise from Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who is known to be hard on his teammates.
“We just saw why Bama will be BCS champs @10AJMcCarron and @barrettAjones not afraid to confront each other in order to win. #respect,” Bryant tweeted after the incident.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The bottom line is simple: if you want to be a championship team, your team members must learn how to confront one another constructively when someone is not doing what he needs to do to be the best. Conflict can be healthy and helpful, but only if it is the product of mutual trust.