The Two-Minute Drill (TMD): An Interview with Experts on Its Use

Published: Nov 28, 2018
Modified: Mar 27, 2020

By AMA Staff

Performance and Profits recently had an opportunity to interview the authors of the innovative book The Two-Minute Drill: Lessons on Real and Rapid Organizational Improvement from America’s Greatest Game. This is a timely book given both the state of the economy and the start of the new football season.

In this book, authors Clinton Longenecker, Greg Papp, and Tim Stansfield share their research findings on over 1,000 successful and unsuccessful organizational improvement efforts. They use the football metaphor of a “two-minute drill” to help the reader approach change in a way that will speed up almost any improvement effort as well as increase the success of such initiatives.

The authors shared their views with us about using the two-minute drill approach for organizational improvement.

What is a two-minute drill in football?

Longenecker:  A two-minute drill is an offensive strategy in which one team attempts to rapidly move the ball down the field to score when they are losing late in a game and time is running out.  Running a two-minute drill means that your team is behind on the scoreboard but you are in a position to execute a rapid series of actions that will help you win the game.  We have all seen exciting finishes to big football games and a two-minute drill causes performance levels to increase so a team can win the game.

This same set of practices can be applied to the modern workplace with great results.

What is a two-minute drill in the workplace?

Papp:  The two-minute drill allows a leader to create real and rapid organizational change/improvement using the same fundamentals of “rapid scoring” from football.  It gives leaders a vehicle that they can use to drive real improvement when the stakes are high, time is short, and real results are needed!  Organizations can use the same disciplined mindset and set of practices to accelerate sales growth, implement a lean manufacturing initiative, accelerate a cost reduction program, or roll out an improved customer relationship management process.

Aren’t sports metaphors overused in the workplace?

Stansfield:  They are somewhat overused, but this doesn’t mean that the concept of the two-minute drill doesn’t have application in the workplace. Our research demonstrates that using the key principles of rapid scoring from American football can help leaders in any organization improve both the effectiveness and speed of nearly any change effort. Stop right now and think of a change initiative that your organization recently implemented that did not produce real change or improvement. What were the causes of this failure? Make a list and be specific.  Now do the same for a successful change initiative that you have recently experienced and make a list again.  We are confident that you will see great parallels between successful change and the TMD concept.

What are key components of a successful TMD?

Longenecker:  As a start, the leader, in the role of quarterback, must clearly define what winning means and set up a scoreboard to help the team control the clock and manage the improvement process.  Successful change is always driven by a sense of urgency and importance and TMD  in the workplace  draws upon this and the fact that people like to be part of winning teams. 

Note that successful change efforts need a sense of urgency, not a sense of crisis, panic, or despair. 

Real change initiatives will always use the right plays or activities that are designed with a specific outcome in mind to help move the team towards the improvement end zone.  Each and every play in an improvement effort must also be executed with precision and time sensitivity. That requires having the right players on the field, ready to play. 

Papp: I’d like to add that successful improvement efforts are based on using an effective change process but the difference maker is employing the principle that you “win with people” at every stage of the change game.  Real change efforts move the ball while controlling the clock and using time sparingly.  Teamwork becomes paramount as each individual performs his or her  assignment on each and every play so that the team as a whole advances the ball. 

Two-minute drills are collections of plays that must be executed flawlessly to get the team into the “red zone” so that the team is in a position to score. And when teams score and get real improvement, they celebrate success in a fashion that reinforces desired behaviors and closes out the game. This means that team leaders do the things necessary to make sure that changes stick. 

Finally, organizations that are serious about winning the change game always conduct a post-game analysis to determine what was learned during the improvement drive and always hold a press conference to share these findings with other members of their franchise. 

So a TMD in the workplace is really all about executing improvement initiatives in a fashion that produces real results rather than wastes time, energy, resources, credibility, and goodwill.

When can the TMD be used?

Stanfield:  Football teams run two-minute drills when they are behind on the scoreboard and time is of the essence and the same should be true in business.  A TMD should be run in business when the stakes are high, real change is needed, and time is critically important.  The TMD approach can be applied to all sorts of improvement models including reengineering and process redesign—Six-Sigma, lean manufacturing, Toyota production systems, and Kaizen, among others.  TMD thinking can improve and accelerate any improvement process.

About the Author(s)

AMA Staff: American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.