I had a spiritual teacher tell me once that “the Sangha is the new Buddha.” Now, this would be nonsensical if you didn’t understand the terms. Sangha is not a delicious drink, but a tribe committed to discovering ultimate Truth (i.e. the original concept of enlightenment that the Buddha spoke of). The Buddha was the teacher or guru. So, what he meant was that in the future, the ultimate truth and advancement of society will come not from any single guru, but from a tribe committed to seeking the truth. I like that analogy, and believe that the Team is the new Leader. Now, as you have heard me say in this lesson, every team needs authentic, effective leadership. But that leadership comes from an individual, the organization itself, and ALSO from every teammate. Leadership is multi-faceted and shared on elite teams. Everyone needs to be a leader and refine their skills in that domain… expanding their capacity for leadership potential, performance, service, and connection. At the same time, everyone needs to be a great teammate providing support and service to the team and positional leader to get the mission accomplished.
In this topic, I would like to look at what I call the “Seven Commitments of an Elite Team.” These look a lot like individual character traits… but applied to an entire team. A team can perform 20X what any individual can by aligning with, practicing and projecting these commitments. I call them commitments because they are deliberate vertical skills to be developed which require a firm, spoken commitment to by each individual on the team. And everyone is held accountable to the standard set. Here they are, in summary.
Elite teams act as warriors, who will step into the breach and risk failure. They don’t do this that one time that they are pressed to the wall like you see in the movies. It is a routine thing, something that is practiced so that it is not such a big deal when called to do it again, and again. Courage is a practice, just like humility. How does a team practice courage?
- Take a stand on what is critically important, both professionally and personally, locally and globally.
- Get real with your training, preparation, and testing. Face criticism of your crazy ideas and failures with quiet determination to improve.
- Run toward the sound of gunfire to determine where to attack first. This is a SEAL metaphor for not retreating in the face of the attack, but embracing risk and moving closer to get a clear picture of what is really happening. That way you can eliminate doubt through action, and not reaction.
- Feed the courage wolf daily through your dialogue as a team. This point cannot be understated… an individual becomes what they think and so does a team. If you have a negative teammate then that attitude can infect the team, reducing the willpower for courageous action. Commit to dialogue amongst all teammates that will stoke courage and starve fear.
Trust is the glue that holds an elite team together. I wrote a lot about trust earlier so will not re-hash it here. The point is that the team commits to trust just like you as an individual leader commits to developing trustworthiness and trust in your team. The team, as a unit, must develop its own trustworthiness through its actions, and gain trust from the organization as a whole, other teams within and partners/stakeholders and the community. Key attributes of trust for a team include:
- Transparency of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. Ensuring explicit and implicit requests are understood. Taking responsibility for how the task order lands, not just for how it is delivered.
- Humility is practiced so the team tamps down its ego. Nobody likes to experience a team gloat over a win or an opponent. I love the example of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, who practice humility and earn trust and respect in return. I recommend the book “Legacy” to learn more about their practices in elite teaming.
- Follow-through is a big deal in trust. If your team commits to something, then do it. Everyone on the team must follow-through for this to earn team trust. If just one individual fails to follow-through, then the entire team failed to follow-through.
This seems like such a simple concept. But respect is something that has been tossed out the door in our society. I think a team that commits to being respectful, will be greatly respected in return. Respectability comes from authenticity, which means that teams will develop awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. They will then work to shore up their weakness, and leverage their strengths quietly, with humility. They will treat all with respect and gratitude for their support, or teaching them how not to be. Just as when an individual has respect for the self, they can then respect others, so with a team. Key attributes that lead to team respect include:
- Integrity in action and speech. The team that can align around the vision and mission of the organization, and then think, speak and acts out that alignment, has integrity. Integrity is displayed in how the team acts when they think they are not being watched. As we know someone is always watching… your teammates, or maybe that security camera or the janitor with his i-phone.
- The authenticity of character. This has been discussed at length, and the term vulnerability has been used as synonymous with authenticity. I don’t see them as the same. Vulnerability means to be open to examining and admitting your faults and failures. Being authentic includes that, but goes deeper into self-awareness of your conditioned responses and a commitment to change them for more effective communications and connections with the team.
- Clarity of intent. One way to really cause a depletion of respect is to lack clarity on what it is you want and are asking of the team. This can be a leader’s lack of clarity on a goal, task or mission. It can also be one team’s lack of clarity on the needs of another. I lost respect in an external marketing team my company partnered with when they displayed a gross lack of clarity around our needs and did not ask good questions to clarify. I took responsibility for any gap on our side of the missed communications… but finally realized they simply did not listen well. They had a template that they applied to everyone else assuming it would work for us. It didn’t.
This entire lesson has been about how an Elite team will challenge themselves to step up every day to grow. They see the team as the primary growth vehicle for the individual, AND the collective. Just as an individuals family provides grist for personal growth, the team is grist for both personal and professional growth. An elite team commits to uncommon (at least as of this writing) practices that lead to vertical growth of the inner skills of the team… such as box breathing together, creating a team mantra, visualizing the mission and healthy team “body-mind” etc. Key attributes that lead a team to relentless growth include:
- Challenging each other in uncommon ways. We have teams that train to attend an Unbeatable Mind integrated training event, which is hard and exposes the team to serious weakness in character. And we created our 50 hour Kokoro training to challenge individuals to break through ruts and tap deep inner resolve. Challenge leads to growth, the status quo leads to weakness.
- I learned how powerful variety of experience is for growth in the SEALs. We were always learning something new, changing up our environment, and expanding our skill base. The combination of a variety of horizontal development with vertical development leads to accelerating the growth of the individuals and collective team.
- Mentors hold a mirror up to allow us to see where we need work. A team is in it’s own bottle and can’t read the label. Individual and team mentors will expose the team to its own unique abilities, as well as gaps where they need some work.
An elite team will seek excellence not just on the “battlefield,” but in the every day as a practice. The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary results is a little “extra!” So the team seeks out that 1% daily improvement, better meeting, and email practices, better communication skills to have transparency, truth and respect within the team. Things like that. Key attributes that lead a team to excellence in execution include:
- A curious mindset, always tinkering, testing new ideas and refining processes.
- Innovating new offerings and evolving the vision and mission. Innovation requires a curious mindset, but curiosity itself doesn’t always lead to innovation. Innovation is curiosity combined with boldness.
- Keep it simple, sally. Complexity will get you killed in warfare and other high-risk environments. In most business and team settings, it probably won’t kill you, but it will slow things down, leading to bureaucratic thinking and processes.
Elite teams expect to win over time and most of the time. But they also expect to fail and learn to use those failures to catapult their collective understanding and willpower toward the next win. They experience both velocity, an increase of speed of each victory, as well as momentum, the mass effect times that speed… meaning they become unstoppable. Key attributes that lead to team resiliency include:
- Being adaptable to the constantly changing environment. Thinking you have figured it out and can ride on your genius ideas or brilliant technology or offering is why so many legacy companies are getting disrupted. You must develop team adaptability where the team is always iterating, evolving and challenging the status quo.
- Sometimes the answer lies just outside your range of view. You may get 80% into a project and all signs point to failure, so you quit saving time and resources. Most teams will slap themselves on the back by having the foresight to pull the plug before disaster strikes. But, what if the team had persisted and found that the answer you were looking for was out of sight because you were not asking the right questions? Elite teams will persist to find a solution to their challenge, never quitting even if it appears as though they are going to fail. Of course, this requires great self-awareness and discipline to choose the initial targets or solution sets wisely to begin with. Many projects deserve to be abandoned because they were ill-conceived from the start.
- The previous point means that elite teams need to become learning machines. They are constantly learning, and learning is a core competency. Elite teams learn how to think with whole-mind, do hasty planning, execute with an 80% solution, iterate, fail well, see simplicity on the other side of complexity, stay the course with flexibility, and learn from each of these.
To lead an elite team, you have to know what their boundaries are. Boundaries can only be defined after the vision is set, and mission clearly articulated and bought into. Then, the team co-created the boundary field of acceptable action. Alignment around vision, mission and value boundaries leads to an elite team to cooperate with other teams in a team of teams manner, as described earlier. Key attributes that lead to team alignment include:
- Elite teams are relentless in their communication strategy. They communicate the vision, mission, and boundaries constantly.
- Sharing risk and experience is crucial. How many lackluster teams fail because the operators begrudge that the team or organizational leaders haven’t experienced, and thus don’t understand their challenges? Team members should experience each other’s job’s, be cross-trained to appreciate the trials and tribulations, and interconnectedness of each other. Nothing will create team unity more than this.
- Elite teams are enthusiastic about their mission. When I see an employee or operator who is disengaged, not enthusiastic about what the organization or team is doing, I know they are on the wrong team. Some individuals just can’t muster enthusiasm for much, and these are to be avoided because they are misaligned in life. But if an individual is in the right place and still lacks enthusiasm, then it is likely they are in the wrong role, or have not been challenged enough to bring out their best. The point is an elite team will spend a lot of time on this point to ensure that all teammates are engaged and enthusiastic about the mission. This enthusiasm is like rocket fuel.
Great work with this lesson. The last topic has some exercises you can do with your team to create greater clarity and communications around vision, mission, and ethos (values). I also encourage you to share these commitments with your team and get everyone to commit to the commitments. Let’s build Unbeatable Teams!