Organize For Clarity of Purpose


Many of us are not in a position to affect our organizational structure and its role in our team’s performance. However, if helps to understand the issues of alignment, and if you happen to be in a manager-leader position where you can have an impact then you will want to study alignment in your organization and see where things may be out of whack. How an organization orients its systems and structures in the support of its teams and individuals can have a deep impact on their performance.

Typically a team can be simply viewed as an aggregation of individuals hard wired to act largely out of self-interest, brought together to work toward a common interest in an endeavor that cannot be handled by any one individual alone. If we follow the rules of selecting and indoctrinating that we outlined above, then the self-interests of authentic team players will expand to include the interests of his or her teammates. By taking eyes off himself and putting them on the team, the authentic teammate cements the chain of trust and mutual support, thereby mitigating the potential of self-serving behavior. Assuming we are able to select and train individuals of this caliber, and that basic financial, safety and other “hygiene needs” are met by the organization, how can the organization align to best motivate and mobilize an unbeatable team?

Highly functioning individuals yearn for intangible rewards of a higher order than money, rank and prestige. An organization that can structure itself to allow for these higher order rewards will be rewarded in kind with exceptional performance and retention. What are examples of some higher order rewards?


First let’s look at the concept of autonomy. I loved working in the SEAL Teams as a result of the semi-autonomy that the SEALs allowed their officers. They are able to find a fine balance between the rigid structure of the general Navy, with very little room for autonomy and creativity, and allowing enough autonomy and creative decision making that one does not feel constricted or shut down by the organization. Teams and individuals are allowed the room to think for themselves, create new ways of getting things done, and to develop new training and tools to pursue self-mastery for the life of a career. In essence the organization encourages the act of learning to learn, which necessitates some level of autonomy of thought and action. SEALs do not work well as “cogs in the machine,” which is why they are so entrepreneurial in and out of service. This autonomy leads to a mile of creativity, job satisfaction and exceptional performance.

Unbeatable team players deserve, and will demand, respect. They abhor being thrown into the net of restrictive rules designed for the bottom 1%. Aligned organizations allow for enough autonomy to allow risk taking and failure. They look at failure as a necessary “trial and error” process, rather than expecting perfection. They avoid a “zero tolerance” mentality such as exists in rigid bureaucracies. Mess-ups are just another way to “not do” something, which end up developing valuable knowledge and confidence in the individual for the benefit of the organization.

Contrast this with an environment where every detail is controlled and where failure is condemned. In this unaligned organizational system there is no risk taking and group thinking prevails.

As a leader you can supercharge teams by removing zero-tolerance, rigid rules. Handle the occasional slip-up on a one-off basis. Allow for more autonomy and independent decision making and watch job satisfaction and, consequently, results, soar.


Next let’s look at the concept of opportunity for mastery. As discussed earlier, a powerful attribute of the SEAL Team organization is lifelong learning. A steady stream of team training and individual professional development courses are provided. This training allows the operators and teams to master the many hard and soft skills required of the special operations warrior. This leads the individuals to cultivate a love of learning and to seek self-mastery. The thirst for knowledge and skills becomes a life-long endeavor. The organization also allows the individuals space to pursue a sub-specialty that they are passionate about, as long as it supports the team’s mission. Thus a teammate can both master the general skills of the SEAL operator as well as a more specific skill or discipline (such as becoming a Master Parachutist or Shooting specialist). In this endeavor they bring valuable new insights and techniques to the table.

At SEAL Team Three I was privileged to work with a SEAL named Dave Billings. Big Dave, as we called him, was a saturation diver and power lifter before he became a SEAL. To overcome the pain from a few incidents of the bends as a sat diver, Dave lifted heavy twice a day in addition to the Team’s normal workout routine. To say this man was in amazing shape is an understatement. But what made Dave truly unique was his passion for combat diving. He mastered the nuanced skills of combat diving while studying with his French and German peers. He innovated many of the tactics, techniques and procedures for combat diving in the SEALs, and invented his own closed circuit dive rig that had a 12 hour underwater duration (the Draeger rig, still in use today, only have 4 hour durations). Dave spent much of his spare time in the dive locker perfecting his art. It was the organization’s flexibility that allowed him to pursue mastery of his passion. He repaid the organization tenfold with his contribution to creation of the SEAL combat swimmer courses and by introducing new equipment and techniques to the community. Dave inspired everyone he touched with his attitude and walk-the-talk way. If you are a leader, this concept of aligning the organization to allow time and space for individuals to pursue mastery can have a dramatic positive impact on the organization. You never know… what comes from it may be a whole new way of doing things or your primary source of revenue in a few years.


Once basic financial and social needs are met, people are motivated most by a sense of purpose. An organization that has a “change the world” purpose is exciting to work for. Google’s purpose is to “organize the world’s information.” That big vision is very motivating for the technically brilliant employees of Google.

What can be more purposeful for a warrior than working for the U.S. Navy SEALs? The opportunity to eliminate the world’s most malevolent terrorists can be very motivating.

Though your organization may not be as culturally powerful as Google or the Navy SEALs, can you can develop a “big vision purpose” and get your team behind it? Try using the 7 question technique introduced in the Authentic Leadership lesson to unlock your organizations big vision purpose. What is it you do best? Why does that add value? What is most meaningful about what you do? Ask good questions and don’t settle for any vision that isn’t super clear and inspiring to the entire team. Then enshrine this in action by aligning the organizations systems and structures to support and reward movement toward the vision.

I believe if the organization can align to support authentic teams through semi-autonomous decision making, the opportunity for mastery, and a big vision purpose, they will create the conditions for teams and individuals to flourish and perform at stunning levels.

Accelerated Team Performance

How does a team, once formed and operating in an organization that is aligned properly, optimize and train to be unbeatable and succeed at its mission every time? Let’s look at some attributes that make authentic teams unbeatable.


Each individual on an unbeatable team must be committed to the team and to team mastery. As mentioned, a single uncommitted individual will spoil the team. If you are on a team with a slouch, or if one member has problems on the home front that spill into the work environment, then the whole team suffers and the team bond begins to fray.

This goes beyond recruiting and selecting the right teammates. It means that each teammate must commit to maintaining focus on the job and in private life. The team must keep a close watch. If there are signs that a teammate is struggling with an issue, it should be dealt with immediately.

While in the SEAL Teams, there was an individual in one of my platoons who was going through some personal problems and started to drink heavily. This struggle led to a critical mission failure on a high risk evolution that almost caused the death of another teammate.

In retrospect, the team should have recognized and confronted the issue and intervened. The team failed that individual as much as he failed the team. Unbeatable teammates must be entirely committed to one other, to the team and the mission.


Unbeatable teams have an unquestionable understanding of their mission. The mission should be clearly connected to the organization’s vision/purpose and articulated using SMART terminology where appropriate (recall the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely acronym from goal setting). The specific and implied tasks must be known, with the training of the team connected to these specific and implied tasks. The team’s measure of success and accountability are then also tied to the mission. The mission becomes the team’s focusing point, propelling them forward while the values of the organization keep the team on track.


Course Discussion