Former Navy SEAL and Perfect Fitness founder Alden Mills offers leadership insights into building teams that achieve success.
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Let’s get something straight before we go any further: teams always beat groups of individuals. Want to accomplish the impossible? Build a team. Looking to turn around a hopeless situation? Fire up a team. Trying to launch a new-to-the-world idea? Yep, you guessed it, a team is what you need. Turning a startup into a success only happens with hard work, determination and a team. Yet, somewhere along the journey between sketching out the world-beater idea on a napkin and turning that idea into reality, many entrepreneurs lose sight of the fundamentals that will bring them to the promised land of viability and profitability.
I call these principles the Unstoppable Team Fundamentals because if you’re truly in it to win it then you need an unstoppable mindset for you and your teammates. I’ve learned these leadership fundamentals the hard way — through multiple failures and a few remarkable successes that span my life’s journey from leading Navy SEAL platoons to founding Perfect Fitness, my company that makes Perfect Pushup and other revolutionary fitness devices.
In fact, these fundamentals apply regardless of your industry, business structure or startup focus. Disregard them at your own potential peril; heed them and you’ll discover that your greatest challenge will be dreaming up bigger entrepreneurial mountains for your teams to climb.
1. Use the “swim buddy” system
The single most important team in SEAL Team is the swim buddy; it’s also the smallest team. All SEAL teams are developed from the swim buddy system. Two swim pairs form a fire team, two fire teams form a squad and two squads form a platoon. (The names have changed slightly with the term “platoon” replaced with squadron but the basic premise remains.) The same holds true in the civilian world whether you’re just starting out, rebuilding or rebranding — it’s all about pairing people up. The goal of swim buddies is three-fold:
- Pair an experienced person with an inexperienced member to rapidly close the learning gap. The faster you close the experience gap the stronger you make the “weakest” link of your team (the one with the least amount of experience).
- Team up complementary skill sets to problem solve faster than individuals working alone in silos.
- Bring together diverse backgrounds (i.e. diversity of thought) to spark creativity and overcome negativity within your organization.
Swim buddies aren’t forever — rotate people through the pairing up process and not only will they solve problems faster and more effectively they will also develop the critical bonds of trust needed to galvanize individuals into a selfless focused winning machine — an Unstoppable Team.
2. Model the way you want your team to perform
Understanding and articulating your company’s “why” is fundamentally important, but the “how” behind how you and your team execute drives your organization’s culture and ultimately, it’s brand. Your company’s brand is nothing more than a reflection of your culture, and culture is a reflection of your teammates’ actions…and guess where your teams’ reflection comes from? It comes right from the leader: you. No detail is too small when modeling the way for the organization you strive to build. Make no mistake, your actions are under a microscope.
What you do gets emulated not just internally but externally to your customers. J. Willard Marriott developed a simple rule to live by when he founded his company 92 years ago: “Take care of associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” That simple philosophy remains at the heart of Marriott’s leadership focus today (Marriott’s HR policy is called “Take Care”). You might think because you’re the inventor, creator or founder of the company, you can operate differently than others. Wrong! Products will come and go, but the single hardest thing to build and the easiest thing to lose is a winning culture focused on caring for each other, customers, contributors and the communities in which you operate. As the leader, always model the way in which you expect others to emulate.
3. Caring leads to daring
One of the greatest challenges of team building is getting people to relinquish their selfish ego-driven desire for personal gain and replace it with a selfless drive to help the team flourish. Legendary coach John Wooden said, “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” The only way to help people transform from selfishness to selflessness is by showing how much you care for them. The goal is getting them to forget about worrying about their own “backs” and, instead, keeping them focused on caring for each other and the team goals. It takes time, transparency, consistency and thoughtfulness to prove to others that you have their “backs,” but when you succeed at proving to them how much you care about them, then they will start proving how much they will dare for you. Caring leads to daring. Seek ways to connect with your teammates — to understand their challenges and pressures not only during the work day but also in their personal lives. People are not robots, they have emotions which drive their behaviors. Unstoppable Teams are powered by care.
4. Hire for culture first
I don’t care how smart someone is — if they are a jerk or have some kind of caustic attitude they will become a liability in your team building process. When hiring people you want to look for what Eric Schmidt in Trillion Dollar Coach refers to as “smarts and hearts.” Seek competency and compassion that are a cultural fit for the “why” and the “how” of the organization you are building. You want diversity of thought but not diversity of heart. Make cultural fit a top priority when selecting people to join you on your entrepreneurial journey. There is hard evidence supporting the soft arts of emotional intelligence, and while you’re contemplating who to hire, know that women are instinctively better at building caring relationships. They typically have higher levels of oxytocin — the caring/nurturing hormone — then men do. If your team doesn’t have women on it, it may not be as unstoppable as it could be!
Team building is an imperfect science — it’s messy and at times frustrating but so incredibly worth it. We are all imperfect. We need each other, and how we form those bonds directly impacts how well we will succeed together. We are much more powerful together than we are standing alone. So, leaders, this is a call to step up, give it all you have and don’t you dare give up on going all-in every day…because that’s exactly what you need your team to do too as well: Go All-In All the Time.
Now go build an Unstoppable Team and make greatness happen!
Author: Alden Mills