Colts GM Chris Ballard On Culture, Teams, And Process

Chris Ballard, General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts, wrote a very thoughtful article on the culture of the Colts. There’s plenty of details for football fans, but there are much broader applications anyone can apply in their own organization or processes. Here’s a sample describing their philosophy of selecting players for the team (emphasis added): 


We define football character as a player’s work ethic, passion for the game, football intelligence, competitive nature, and teamness. If any of these areas are weak, the chances of the player busting and not fitting in our locker room becomes greater. An NFL season is long and hard. The character of each individual player and the entire team shows up, either good or bad, during the hard times. It is difficult to get through a rough stretch if your players don’t have mental toughness.


We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.


Ballard and his staff have a well-defined approach to building and maintaining the organization they want. Whether we apply the methods to team building, client selection, or portfolio construction – we can borrow the same basic building blocks. 


1.       Identify the desired result and the factors required to achieve it. If we are making a cake, we need to know the ingredients and the recipe. In the same way, Ballard starts with “football character” and deconstructs downward into work ethic, passion, etc. 

2.       Determine thresholds. The cake recipe doesn’t just call for flour, it calls for a certain amount of flour. Ballard uses the factors to measure what they want. Notice how they look for weakness first, not just strengths. Stress tests weakness in a system. The Colts want to minimize those risks. 

3.       Set expectations. The sugar doesn’t need to know it’s part of a cake, but if someone is helping us bake the cake – we should definitely let them know what we’re working on. Everything we add to a system can only be helpful if it’s working in the right direction, hence the importance of understanding “this is what we stand for.”


The Colts are ultimately looking to win Super Bowls, but we should note how they’re doing so by minimizing the risks and the maximizing the culture that increases their odds of success. Along the way, they’ll do a lot of good too (see “The Power of Sundays” section about their community and charitable work).  Ballard knows the results won’t happen overnight, but the structure they are building will make sure they’re getting all of the easy stuff right.


We may not be aiming for Super Bowls in our own lives, but we are certainly baking our own proverbial cakes. We can learn a lot from how Ballard and the Colts step back, determine what matters, and focus their efforts. Wherever we are in an organization, whatever the processes are we’re in charge of, we can use this insight to better deconstruct what’s going on around us and figure out how to make it even a little bit better.