For 15 Years, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots Have Said This After Every Win: How Traditions Build Great Teams
Unlike many corporate slogans, the right to say these two words must be earned.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
When I worked on a production line, the equipment could only run so fast. As a result job changeover speed (we called them "makereadies") was extremely important, since that was where the biggest gains in overall throughput could be made.
And that meant on our crew of five operators -- as with all the best teams, we were fiercely competitive with other crews but also with each other -- you hated be the last to finish your makeready: If someone fell behind, shouts of, "Waiting on youuu..." echoed across the shop floor.
Yet no one got mad when "Waiting on youuu..." was directed their way. While never referred to in this way, over time yelling, "Waiting on youuu..." had become a kind of team tradition that signaled excellence and camaraderie: Sometimes I'm fast, sometimes you're fast, but we are a team that only succeeds when we all succeed.
"Waiting on youuu..." worked because it wasn't forced. It wasn't the result of a formal teambuilding initiative. It just happened, and became a tradition.
Something similar takes place in the Patriot locker room after every win. Once Coach Bill Belichick talks about the game, the team circles up to hear special teams captain Matthew Slater speak. Here's an example from last year's win over the Buffalo Bills:
"Fellas, way to tote that thing," he said. "Way to run that rock. That's a team win now. Team win. We keep doing that, we're going to be all right."
His voice rising, he says, "It's not easy to win 10 games in this league."
And then he yells a question; this is moment the whole team has waited for. "How do we feel about being 10-2?" And Slater and his 52 teammates shout in unison:
Probably the best-known Patriots slogan is, "Do your job," but that is more of a corporate mantra; think of it as top-down. "Aww yeah!" has a grass-roots, almost accidental origin (which is why it is so effective.)
Linebacker Tedy Bruschi first said it during a 2003 pre-season practice. Then, after a win against Philadelphia, running back Antowain Smith looked at Bruschi and said, "Tedy. Break it down. Do that 'Aww yeah!' thing!"
As Bruschi says, "To get that, I had to ask a question, to ask them how they feel. 'How do we feel about a victory?!' And the team responded, 'Aww yeah!'
"From there, it just started," Bruschi says.
When Bruschi retired in 2009, other Patriots stepped in. Matt Light. Randy Moss. Tom Brady. And then, starting in 2011, Matthew Slater. Last year Slater even traveled with the team while injured.
"The good thing this year," says safety Devin McCourty, "is that when Slate hasn't played he's been there. "It's like, 'All right, do your thing, Slate.' And that's how he is I think, for this team, he's just a voice that you kind of need."
I've been around other corporate mantras. Some companies do a formal call-and-response after morning meetings. Others start the day with a cheer. One plant I visited ended meetings with, "Get stuff done. Have fun!"
Yet they all feel forced and rote. When you are told to say the same thing, regardless of outcome or effort, the words you say lose all their meaning. That slogan is just another thing you are told to do by the people in charge.
"Aww yeah!" has meaning because "Aww yeah!" is reserved for victories. The right to say "Aww yeah!" is earned.
Culture is built by what you do, not by what you say. Even though "Aww yeah!" is just words, it serves as a symbol -- and a capstone -- for effort, sacrifice, and teamwork.
Which makes it far better than any formal teambuilding exercise.
Instead of putting time into creating a slogan or tradition, put that time into helping your teams succeed. When they do, they'll come up with their own tradition, one that has meaning.
Which is what really matters.