The New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, coaches, players and scouts do better than their competitors at building capabilities over time, preparing for each game and adjusting to game circumstances to put themselves in a position to win. And win they do – more frequently than any other NFL team. The lessons are directly applicable to your business.

Build Capabilities Over Time

It starts with building capabilities. When Suzy Welch sat down with Belichick for CNBC last April and asked whether winning the next Super Bowl was his next goal, he told her that was too far away. Job one was to “Put a good competitive team together.”

He hires for values and manages with guiding principles.

He got his values from his father: toughness, work ethic, devotion. Those directly translate into the team’s guiding principles: 1) Do your job (dependably and consistently); 2) Be attentive – to details (being able to improve); 3) Put your team first. (To be successful, you need your teammates.)


Belichick’s hiring of Matt Patricia is a case in point. Matt was heading towards a career in rocket science when he interviewed with the Patriots. He demonstrated his toughness and work ethic enough for Belichick to offer him an entry-level assistant coaching job. When Matt paused to check with his wife, Belichick took that as a sign of lack of devotion and pulled the offer. Matt had to fight to get that offer back. Now he’s the defensive coordinator and likely next head coach of the Detroit Lions.

Implication for you. Make sure your organization is doing long-term future capability planning. Your strategies are practically useless without the human, financial, technical and operating resources required to implement them. Start building for your future now.

Prepare For Each Game

As Belichick told Suzy Welch, “Every battle is won before it’s fought.  Sun Tzu – Art of War.  It’s all about preparation. You know what you’re doing and you have an idea what the opponent’s going to do – what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

Belichick’s assistant coaches go through every single recent play by their opponents to help prepare for each game. They detail everything down to which direction the quarterback turns his head prior to the snap. This helps Belichick and the other coaches anticipate their opponents and get to a point where everybody knows what to do in most situations.

Then the work begins to prepare for the next game. As quarterback Tom Brady explains, Belicheck “tries to make it harder in practice than in the games.”

Implication for you. Prepare, knowing what’s preparation and what’s the actual game. Too many organizations devote too much attention to their internal activities instead of winning with customers. Certainly some of those internal activities are part of preparing to win. But they’re not valuable on their own.

Adjust To Game Circumstances

Belichick, like Eisenhower, knows “A battle plan is great until you actually get into the battle and then it doesn’t mean anything.” He’s constantly adjusting. Tony Dungy calls him the “Best adjustment coach in football.”

He adjusts, but adjusts in line with his guiding principles so things are challenging enough to beat his opponents and still something his team can execute. Part of this is relying on his most dependable players at moments of truth.

Implication for you. You invested in all this preparation so you and your team are ready to adjust. When the time comes, trust your preparation, trust your go to players and play to win.


Belichick’s fundamental formula for success is made up of building capabilities, preparing in advance and adjusting during the game. This is applicable whether you are an executive onboarding into a new role or a leader trying to rally your current team:

  1. Build capabilities by recruiting the right people with the right values and developing them over time.
  2. Prepare in advance of your most critical interactions, focusing as much energy as possible on customers and as little as practical internally.
  3. Adjust as required, in line with your capabilities and guiding principles.