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What’s on Your Game Film?


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What’s on Your Game Film?

Football teams rely heavily on game films to assess their on-field performance. Most teams will spend hours looking at the films with a focus on learning from what happened. 

In some cases, players may have been out of position or did not execute the play as it was designed. In other cases, an individual player may learn that a technique was poor, or the technique was not adjusted to fit the opposing player’s tactics. As they prepare for the next game, many would argue that the best performing teams are the ones that learn the fastest from this film review. Coaches and players try to build on their strengths and address weaknesses. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Andrew Powell, chief executive officer of Learn to Win, entitled “Agile Learning: How to Win” at TEDxDAU. The discussion included thoughts on fast learning and concepts such as last mile learning, one concept at a time, and learning in fast loops. Powell used football player development lessons from his work with teams to highlight relevant lessons for acquisition training. One of his key questions to the audience was, “What’s on the game film for your team—what does it show?” This powerful question warrants some reflection and an answer. 

The short answer is that we have no idea. We lack game film in acquisition teams, and this is a serious problem. In my experience, acquisition teams do not typically reflect on how they performed except perhaps to identify risks and issues, with a focus on next steps and getting through the next milestone. Teams may conduct after-action reviews, but only after important decision meetings when the focus is on the way ahead, not on team development. Given the importance of team performance, this lack of game film and the learning associated with it is a major obstacle in improving team effectiveness. So what can we do about it? 

Like a football team in training camp, acquisition teams should examine how they prepare and how they evaluate and learn from team performance. Beginning with team preparations, some ideas come to mind. First, teams should recognize the need to prepare for performance. This suggests investing the time and resources to build team skills. It can take many hours of practice to improve skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking. Leaders should emphasize skills development, both individually and as a team, and make the necessary investment of time and resources. Leaders should also monitor skill development in a regular rhythm and determine where adjustments are necessary. 

Another idea is to study the playbook and the game plan. For acquisition professionals, this means staying on top of the latest policies, initiatives, and opportunities. It means gathering and analyzing market research information. Game preparations should also involve an assessment of which plays to plan in a given situation. In acquisition, we can think of plays as alternatives to consider when we design a way forward. This could involve analyzing different pathways and tools to accelerate the fielding of warfighting capabilities. It could involve analysis of various contracting approaches or assessing the use of engineering tools that may help with a design solution.

It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that.  It’s the will to prepare to win that matters. 
—Paul “Bear” Bryant, former Alabama Football Coach

The next challenge involves capturing the game film so we can observe what happened and learn from it. I remember looking at films of our games years ago when I played high-school basketball. I was captivated by the review of how some of our plays broke down because of simple things that could be corrected. A player was out of position, a player did not move to the basket at the right time, our team failed to recognize that the other team switched to a different defensive scheme, and many other problems. We would examine the film, learn from the mistakes, and practice the play again until we got it right. We also looked at the successes to learn how the play could be improved or modified so we could use it in different situations. The learning was fast, relevant, and powerful, and we would apply it to the next game. I remember those game lessons and film reviews vividly to this day, many years after. 

Given this potential for value added and fast learning, acquisition teams should capture game film. Many events and processes lend themselves to a game film-type review. Consider all the meetings and reviews in a typical program office and the pre-work that leads up to the event. While some people may be anxious about this kind of evaluation, we can soothe their concerns by ensuring that everyone understands that this is not about criticizing any individual or team but rather examining what happened and what we can learn from it. Professionals and teams who desire to learn and improve will welcome the opportunity. For some, learning how to give and receive feedback may be necessary and should be part of the process. 

How do we actually get the game film and on what should we focus? 

American football players on a field 

Unlike a sporting event, our acquisition field of play is not limited to a single field or court nor is it of a fixed duration. Teams do significant work in small group meetings, some of it on an ad hoc basis. Virtual and hybrid (some in person and some virtual) collaboration sessions are the new norm. Filming is not practical, but we can record important meetings and collaboration sessions in teams, especially those where we expect multi-functional team collaboration. For in-person meetings, we can prepare to obtain feedback in advance, capture what happened, and then identify what worked and what did not. 

While the focus of this game film review can include several areas, let’s highlight two critical skills. First, critical thinking is one of the most sought-after skills in both private and public sector recruiting efforts because of its value in getting results. Teams can achieve great synergies with the collective critical thinking of the group. The need for this skill becomes even greater with the rapid pace of change in our acquisition environment. Just like blocking and tackling, teams can review their critical thinking fundamentals and take steps to improve them. As in the case of the football or basketball team, practicing the skill is a good first step. Each team member should also have a common understanding and some proficiency with the thinking method. 

The second focus area involves team development and interaction skills. Since acquisition is a team sport, team members must be effective in dealing with diverse personalities and backgrounds. Data from team studies suggest that teams who may have less skilled individuals will perform at higher levels than more talented groups if their ability to connect and work together is better. This higher level of performance involves things like effective communications, ensuring all team members have input, establishing team norms, building team trust, and the ability to empathize with team members who are dealing with difficult personal situations. 

Since acquisition teams are busy executing and planning their programs, finding the right mechanism for capturing game film can be difficult. The good news is that help is available. One example is DAU’s new Kobayashi Maru Multi-Functional Team Workshop (KM-MFT WS) built around a challenging and realistic acquisition scenario. The title comes from “Star Trek” episodes in which cadets face a challenging scenario and receive feedback on how they respond to difficult situations. 

The Kobayashi Maru workshop challenges multifunctional team members to address difficult acquisition situations to develop their critical thinking and cross-discipline team skills, while obtaining valuable feedback. This valuable feedback will help the teams prepare for the next challenge, applying what they learned to improve their effectiveness. In essence, it provides the team game film of their performance in a “train like we fight” environment. 

The workshop (also known as WSM 027 in DAU’s iCatalog) will soon be available to both intact teams and individual workforce members. Its target audience includes all six functional areas of Program Management, Contracting, Business Financial Management and Cost Estimating, Engineering and Technical Management, Life Cycle Logistics, and Test and Evaluation. 

The benefits of this training follow:

  • Developing critical thinking skills in a multifunctional environment
  • Experimenting in a safe environment and providing or receiving feedback on team behaviors (game film reviews)
  • Having the opportunity to brief a senior acquisition leader on team recommendations and receiving realistic, experiential learning and feedback
  • Using acquisition tools and authorities to accelerate cycle time
  • Observing the results of early decisions over the life cycle

While this new workshop is still early in its deployment, other training opportunities are available as well. Many training events and workshops are tailorable to add this game film review. It just requires some upfront planning with the training team to ensure observations and feedback will be part of the effort. The team can then learn from the review by practicing the skill to correct the shortcomings and build on existing strengths.

Call to Action

As Coach Bryant stated, preparation prior to a challenging event often is a critical success factor. Other professions such as football provide valuable lessons for defense acquisition professionals on how to prepare for the next game. Acquisition organizations that want to improve multifunctional team performance are strongly encouraged to consider obtaining game film. 

Changing behaviors and performance is difficult if we don’t reflect on what we did. The opportunity for fast, powerful learning from game film review is worth the minimal investment. Make the investment and you will have plenty to offer when asked, “What’s on your game film?” The answer can provide the insights needed to take your team performance to the next level! 

Schultz is a professor of Program Management and an executive coach in DAU’s Capital and Northeast Region at Fort Belvoir, Va. 

The author can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Department of Defense. Reproduction or reposting of articles from Defense Acquisition magazine should credit the authors and the magazine.