I tried to tap into some of the Giants’ magic by reading The Debrief Imperative: The Secret Tool that is Transforming Businesses the World Over. Written by former Air Force fighter pilot James D. Murphy, the book explains the value of a post-op debriefing meeting, and also explains how such meetings should be executed.
Murphy and his Afterburner Inc., company give high level seminars on the subject, and they visited the Giants facility in early November to visit with coach Tom Coughlin, his staff and the players. They spoke about how a group could review a game in the most constructive manner possible.
I asked Giants left tackle Dave Diehl what he thought of the seminar. “We all took something from it,” he said. “There is no better person to watch film with than your peers. Football is so much about accountability and selling out for the guy next to you. You don’t want to let the guy next to you down. When you can watch film as a group, people can stand up and say, hey, that was my mistake, I was responsible. That leads to a belief in one another.”
The book stresses that a debriefing session should be nameless and rankless. That way, the truth comes to the forefront and egos are pushed to the background. For instance, when watching tape, any player or coach can point out anything he or someone else could have done better. Instead of just having a superior pointing out errors, players take ownership in the process, making it more powerful.
“They use the term nameless and rankless, so when we watch the game and critique ourselves, I had to take off the title of defensive coordinator,” Perry Fewell told me. “[Justin] Tuck had to take off the title of captain. We had to be critical of each other, go in the room and hammer out what was the right thing to do, versus who was at fault. Once we were able to do that, we were able to communicate and we broke down some barriers that normally would be defense mechanisms.”
Fewell said what the Giants learned that day has impacted their season. Maybe even to the point they won’t need a debriefing session after Sunday.
National Football Post
By: Dan Pompei
February 5, 2012
Excerpt from NFP Sunday Blitz
One Man Yelp: The Debrief Imperative
Practicing Military Precision
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —There are team meetings. There are position meetings. And then last Monday, the Giants held a debriefing. Fighter-pilot style.
Defense captain Justin Tuck and offensive captain Eli Manning confer with coach Tom Coughlin in September.
Like any NFL coach, Tom Coughlin spends his days seeking some sort of an edge for his team. A noted military buff, he's often turned to speakers from the armed forces, and when he heard some time ago about a firm of business process-management consultants who all come from the military ranks, well, he had to hear more.
Fast forward to the Giants' bye week, and two former fighter pilots and a retired Navy Seal were teaching Coughlin's players how military tactics—and the relentless pursuit of the unattainable goal of "flawless execution"—could translate on a football field.
"I thought the players would relate to the pilots," Coughlin said, in his classic understated way.
His hope, of course, is that it is more than that. The firm, Afterburner, was founded 15 years ago by James Murphy, a former Air Force pilot and business executive. He's created an organizational model based on continuous improvement, and his staff—which includes a retired brigadier general and former head of Top Gun—have worked with Fortune 500 companies from Microsoft to FedEx. They'd never worked with a professional athletic team.
"We came to talk with Coach Coughlin and he related it very well to football," said Scott Leonard, an Afterburner consultant who managed the Giants session. "He said that just like with fighter pilots, tiny, tiny errors are pass-fail. He said, 'For you, it's life and death. For us, it's win or lose.'"
The process is simple: Plan, Brief, Execute and Debrief. The first three phrases are self-explanatory, the last the one that interested the players the most. In the military, a debrief is nameless-rankless, where the officers leave the room and the crew members break down what exactly happened on a mission.
To replicate this process, Eli Manning picked out 30 plays and as the clip of a single play ran, anyone who saw something he felt he could've done better was supposed to speak up. If a player didn't own up to an error, one of his teammates could point it out.
Only, that never happened, receiver Michael Clayton said. When a Brandon Jacobs run came on the screen, the running back almost immediately said, "I should've hit that hole harder." On a pass play, a lineman said, "I need to knock that end's hands down so you've got a clearer path to throw, Eli." Receivers said they needed to catch balls and block safeties better. Tight end/fullback Bear Pascoe said only a couple times did Manning maybe add a point or two.
"Nobody needed to throw any 'daggers,'" Pascoe said, using the terminology Afterburner does for teammate critique. "Everybody saw if they screwed up. That's how comfortable we are with each other—guys can stand up and talk and not worry about fingers being pointed. We were all on an equal plane."
That, the Giants said, is the power of the nameless-rankless debrief. "It takes away from a coach calling guys out," receiver Devin Thomas said. Ballard said it's easier to stomach, that "when the coaches are constantly telling you stuff, it's not that it gets old, but you're saying, 'I know' and the coaches still get picky on you. And you might get a little upset."
Leonard, who sat with the defense, said defensive end Justin Tuck immediately impressed him with his grasp of the process. It was Tuck who said he and his teammates could do the same thing on the sideline after a series and, Leonard said, "roll the lessons into the next series."
Center David Baas said this sort of peer-evaluation only works if there's a level of seriousness. In his first year on this Giants team, he said, that's not an issue. Coughlin is sometimes compared to a college coach for how much control he keeps, and that he's stepping back to leave this to his players without his oversight, shows trust.
"That stuff carries weight," end Dave Tollefson said. "I don't ever feel like I've been to any setting where Coach Coughlin brought someone in and I thought it was a gimmick. Of course, this is still in its infant stages."
Leonard says he has great hope, though. He said with a laugh that the Giants argued with him some on setting aside the hierarchy of players and coaches. "I told them if the military—where we have to salute to cars—could do it, they could," he said. But overall, he added, they naturally took to the program. After leading countless sessions with what he called white collar executives, he said he "found their group dynamic more organized, but less structured. They inherently understood the process behind having a plan defined by the mission objective."
And there it is. Every crew has a mission. The Giants' right now is to march through one of the toughest second half schedules in the NFL and earn a playoff berth. The NFL agreed to subsidize the session and Coughlin said his leadership council was all on board with the idea of the debriefing.
"I've always been a self-analysis guy. I think you can't improve without it. We felt like this would be an open and honest approach—it's not about who's right, it's about what's right," Coughlin said. Of course, whether it works, he said before the Giants beat the Patriots this past weekend, "we'll have to wait and see on."
The Wall Street Journal
By: Aditi Kinkhabwala
November 9, 2011
Excerpt from: One Giant Leap For Manningkind
Even with the breakout seasons of second-year players Cruz (who set a franchise record for receiving yards, with 1,536) and Jason Pierre-Paul (whose 16½ sacks were the most by a Giant since Michael Strahan's 18½ in 2003), New York still entered the final two weeks at 7--7 after a four-game losing streak that tested the bonds Coughlin worked so hard to build. During the bye week following a 4--2 start, director of player development Charles Way invited fighter pilots from Afterburner Inc., a corporate training company, to address the team about the value of "debriefing" sessions. Pilots returning from missions build trust through sessions in which they sit in a room together, stripped of name and rank; each speaks openly about mistakes he made during the mission. Players also received a copy of a book by one of the pilots, James D. Murphy, the title of which expressed the ultimate goal: Flawless Execution.
Soon Manning and Tuck, respectively, were leading offensive and defensive debriefings the day after games. Coaches were not present. Meetings lasted from 20 minutes to an hour. "I wasn't coaching anybody," Manning says. "I was just coaching myself, looking at what I needed to do better and telling everybody. Then everybody would talk about what they needed to do to improve."
Says linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, "There was a time there when we needed every single minute of [debriefing]. It wasn't about calling people out. It was an opportunity to see everybody hold themselves accountable. The big part of why we're here is that fingers don't get pointed. These kind of teams don't come along very often."
If accountability and execution characterized New York's undefeated run from 7--7, those qualities were beacons during the Super Bowl. The Giants had two fumbles but recovered both. (A third was negated by a New England penalty.) They trailed 10--9 at halftime and by eight early in the third quarter but shut down the Patriots after that. Brady, who at one point completed a Super Bowl--record 16 straight passes, was just 7 of 17 for 75 yards on New England's final three drives, which featured two sacks by Tuck, an interception by backpedaling linebacker Chris Blackburn on a long bomb and a slightly misthrown pass that slipped through the grasp of the normally reliable Wes Welker.
"We've won so many games like this, at the end, [in] the fourth quarter," Coughlin said. "We talk about finishing all the time and winning the fourth quarter, being the stronger team. It happened again tonight."
By: Damon Heck
February 13, 2012