Indulge us – it’s the beginning of football season
During the playoffs, the Pats beat the number 1, 2, and 3 offenses in the league in succession by deploying what is called an “amoeba” front (in fairness the Ravens and a few other teams also do this). The formation refers to the fact that there is only one down lineman (guy in the blue jersey with his hand on the ground) and everyone else appears to be just wandering around, ready to do anything. The uncertainty creates an advantage for the defense because it is difficult to predict who is going to rush (and from where) and who is going to cover.
While the concept sounds simple, it is only possible to use this approach if several players on the defense understand the entirety of the defensive scheme extremely well, can perform different assignments, and can switch between those assignments on a play by play basis. Players who exhibit this type positional flexibility are often lauded for their ability to “be multiple”. The point is, every single player on the field understands, in detail, the bigger picture goals regarding what the defense is trying to achieve and then they are free to execute based on what they see in real time from the offense. Key quote from a recent article on the topic:
“By rotating player assignments…New England can script a few defensive calls and have them present as dozens of different looks to the offense….’It’s one of those deals when you put in a package or play or anything, you’ve got a whole group of guys that understand the scheme rather than just a specific position,’ defensive end Trey Flowers says. ‘Anytime you’re able to switch positions or have guys doing different things, you have to understand the whole scheme of what we’re trying to do so whatever we communicate and switch, we don’t get caught out of position.’”
So, what does this have to do with small business operations? Over the past couple of weeks we have been asked several times about centralization vs. decentralization throughout our company. Most people who ask assume centralization is our intention; that we want all decisions to be made from the top down. This is an understandable approach, but not the one we believe is best for us. Instead, we are aiming for something like the business equivalent of the amoeba front: We spend a lot of time a) talking about our larger scale goals (free cash flow generation, employee engagement, customer satisfaction), and b) creating, developing, and supporting the deployment of tools necessary to measure progress against those goals (system training, operational data reporting, financial analysis, etc.). In short, we want everyone to understand our “scheme”. However, when it comes to the actual “plays”, we believe the most effective decisions about how to run our companies should be made based on what our team sees “on the field”.
While we expect decisions to be supported with thoughtfulness and analytical rigor, we believe this approach allows our individual company leaders the freedom to “play every position” and to make the calls necessary to be successful. While we aren’t trying to get sacks or generate stops on third down, we believe that over time this framework will position us to be dynamic, scaleable, and poised to deliver maximum value to our customers, employees, and community.