Handing off Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

It’s a cliché that runs deep in the sport:

Football is a team game.

But, really, it is. The truth of the matter is,

there’s a lot more teamwork that goes into

running the Chicago Bears Football Club

Inc. than the cohesion shown by the players on Sundays.

And that’s where Ted Phillips comes into

play. Phillips, the president and CEO, is in

charge of running the team’s business operations. From the time he was put into that

role in 1999, he’s been focused on getting

his roughly 130 employees to work as a


In his years with the Bears, Phillips has

helped the organization push through to

become a financial success in the National

Football League by working with the city to

fund a large-scale, several-hundred-million-dollar renovation of Soldier Field, where

the team plays home games. He’s also positioned the team to have success on the

field, as the Bears made it to Super Bowl

XLI at the end of the 2006 season — their

first trip to the big game since the end of

the 1985 season.

In the mega-hype world of professional

football, where rookies are often given

endorsements and multimillion-dollar

contracts before they even set foot on the

field or take one snap, one might think

that Phillips’ success would be something

that would come up easily in conversation. That assumption, however, would be

off base.

“The biggest thing in terms of being able

to accomplish all of that was I had some

great people around me; I had a great team

of people,” he says.

And that team is what Phillips focuses

his leadership around. In order to do

great things, he believes you have to put

together a team of people who can work


So while the Bears are privately owned,

and guard their financial numbers with a

few of their offensive linemen, Phillips’

team has earned some respect. Forbes put the team’s valuation at $1.1 billion, ranking

it ninth in the 2008 list of NFL teams — not

bad considering the Bears were purchased

for $100 in 1920.

Here are a few tips from Phillips on how

to get everyone to run the same play.

Hire team players

The cover of a football team’s press

guide may be a picture of a quarterback or

a middle linebacker, but the daily blocking

and tackling of everybody on the field is

what makes it successful. Phillips looks at

his team on the inside the same way. And

that starts with scouting the right team


“You have to hire well,” he says.

In order to hire smart people who can fit

in with your team, Phillips says there are

some characteristics you can look for.

“You want to find people who are flexible

in their thinking, not rigid,” he says.

“Everyone always talks about the right fit,

and you want people who can check their

ego at the door and be truly team players.

... That makes your team more cohesive

and better in the long run.”

The key to finding talented people who

can check their ego at the door is in letting

them tell their story. After you vet the

resumes and find people you think are

going to be sharp, bring them in and ask

them to talk about their accomplishments.

As they talk, hear what they are saying to

see if they’re interested in moving forward

the daily tasks of the team or if they are a

needy, me-first wide receiver.

“Some of it is how they answer questions

during interviews,” Phillips says. “As they

are talking, are they using the I language

about everything that they did or are they

talking about how they added to the efficiency or the overall good of the company

or the department that they were working

in previously.”

You can’t do all the hiring yourself, of

course, so make sure that this hearing test

is being administered by your direct reports as they hire.

“I try to instill that in my direct reports

when they’re hiring people,” Phillips says.

“You tell them to be alert for red flags that

go up in someone’s personality. Are they

being arrogant; are they talking too much

about themselves?”

The other part of getting that philosophy

down to your direct reports is ask them to

have other people test personalities. When

it comes to hiring, involve different people

and let them know they are looking for

someone who can put the team first and

warn them to look for a personality that

can’t do that.

“You talk to them about it as they’re interviewing to make sure there’s a fit personal-itywise with your other staff,” Phillips says.

“(That’s) not just the person interviewing,

but make sure they get some input from

other people in that department as to

whether the candidate is a good fit or not.

That helps.”

Hand the ball off

In order to have an efficient team, you

have to create systems that give people leeway so there isn’t a bottleneck when it

comes to making decisions.

“You have to empower people, you have

to give them responsibility, you try to create an environment of collective responsibility,” Phillips says.

To get that, you can’t be right on top of

your people all the time. Instead, try setting

up regular meetings with your direct

reports where they can give you detailed

timelines, status updates and bring up

points of note. In between those, don’t

poke your head in every day looking to

take on their responsibilities or have everything done the way you would do it.

“I don’t micromanage,” Phillips says. “A

lot of times, I don’t ask for all the details; I

try to teach people, ‘Have confidence in

yourself. It’s OK to take risks; it’s OK to

make mistakes. It’s just if you make them,

try not to repeat the same one.”

While you should hang back and trust employees, you also

have to make yourself a resource. Phillips has regular meetings

with his direct reports, but he doesn’t tell them to hold off if they

are in need of help.

“I always tell people, ‘If there is something critical, you don’t

have to wait for the next scheduled meeting,’” he says.

But all of that comes with a caveat.

“People want responsibility, but they have to have accountability, too,” Phillips says.

Accountability in a culture where you want to empower people can be tricky. But Phillips likes to use his check-in points

with his direct reports as a teaching example. You can make mistakes like lying or stealing fireable offenses, but make other mistakes a learning opportunity the first time they’re made. That

will let employees know that they can take a risk and, instead of

finding themselves on a guillotine, they’ll get positive reinforcement.

“When they do make those mistakes, they start to realize

that you’re not just bringing the hammer down on them; that

you’re using it as a teaching opportunity,” he says. “And after

awhile it gets ingrained in employees that, ‘OK, I understand

that.’ And it all goes with wanting more responsibility and

being accountable. But being accountable doesn’t mean that

you get fired every time that you make a mistake.”

By giving people the rope to make a mistake, you give them

empowerment. But by reiterating with them that a big mistake

is a one-time thing, you keep accountability. If you can keep

doing that consistently, you will have a culture of empowerment.

“You end up building mutual respect and trust in different dealings, and employees begin to trust you when what you say is

consistent with the actions you take,” Phillips says. “It’s easy to

say, ‘Don’t worry about it; you can make these mistakes,’ but

then when you turn around and act a different way, people start

wondering about where you’re coming from. If you’re just consistent in your approach, then, over time, employees start to

realize that there is some method to your madness.”

There’s one last thing that Phillips says can be done to empower people: Give them a little credit here and there. Whenever he

talks to the company about successes, he lets people know who

handled the project and who they worked with. The end result

is people like to take on a little more responsibility because they

know they’ll get recognition.

“I give them credit when something is done well,” he says. “My

direct reports know that the credit gets shared. They like that.

Understand that everyone needs a pat on the back once in

awhile — a simple thank you sometimes goes a long way.”

Hear all the voices in the huddle

If you want people to feel like they are part of a team, they

have to feel like they have a voice. To Phillips, giving them that

voice comes from two-way communication. That begins with

your ears.

“Learn how to listen,” he says. “You can learn a lot more when

you listen to people than when you’re talking yourself.”

That process is about pairing the mental and physical aspects

of listening together. The basics are to shut your mouth and

make sure you look attentive and are paying attention.

“You make eye contact, you let them finish their thoughts before you speak, some basic ideas really,” he says. “You let them finish

their thoughts, their ideas — even if you disagree, you don’t immediately criticize. You accept, you try to add other points and give

them a different direction to think about.”

It’s also about giving employees a more comfortable work

atmosphere where they can be heard. It’s always hard for CEOs

to break down walls with employees, but make sure you take

the time to say hello to people in the hallways or during lunch.

“Yes, we have an organizational structure, yes people know

that I’m the CEO, but I like to treat my direct reports the same

as I treat my lower-level employees and try to engage people,

even if its just a couple of minutes during the day in the hallway,

just so they feel that they, too, are an important piece of the

organization,” Phillips says. “Everybody needs to feel they have

some input; everybody needs to feel that their job means something.”

For Phillips, that process sometimes means giving his funniest

two minutes of stand up. When it comes to breaking the ice with

people, it helps to have a few good jokes — or at least jokes that

you think are pretty good.

“People need to enjoy their job every day because people

spend so many hours in the workplace, and so I do believe in not

taking yourself too seriously,” he says. “You have to laugh at

times. You have to use humor — especially in a situation where

you’re negotiating something with somebody. Oftentimes,

humor can be used to diffuse tension in a certain situation.”

The second part of two-way communications is checking for

clarity. You have to ask people questions to make sure that you

heard what they said and they understood your response.

Phillips likes to clarify points when there’s some disagreement

by asking people to repeat their points more concisely and then

follow up by giving summations of his own points.

“I also try to encourage people to understand that just because

you say something, the key is, did the person you’re talking to

hear it the way you intended it to be heard,” he says. “And if you

don’t ask questions of people, you don’t find out those kinds of

things sometimes until it’s too late.”

HOW TO REACH: Chicago Bears Football Club Inc., www.chicagobears.com