High-Performance Teams are Tested in Military Training. Here's How to Pass Those Tests.

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker)

Teamwork, leadership and followership are common words used when describing working units within the military. From the start of your military experience, you are building your ability to become a team player and work together to accomplish daily tasks. Whether these teams are under a log during special operations training or a Combat Information Center (CIC) aboard a ship, the requirement for effective communications, clear focus and common goals will determine any unit's success or failure. 

Creating a high-performance culture is required in the military, as underperforming can lead to failure, accidents and even unnecessary death in the high-stakes world of military operations. Whether you are the officer in charge or the highest-ranking enlisted leader in a unit, the development of the individual and the team can be enhanced with the following considerations:


Communication is key. Clear, consistent communications must be appreciated and encouraged up and down the chain of command. Setting the standards and goals for the group is not enough. The goals have to be fully understood, and the process to get there must be explained so everyone knows what it takes to accomplish a series of tasks that lead to an ultimate goal. Having individuals accomplish their personal goals in a way that coordinates with the team's goals is the best way to get buy-in from each group member.

Make sure you discuss the day's schedule, tasks within the day and best practices before the activity. It will help the group stay on track and focus on the mission instead of getting lost in negative thoughts.

As a young boat crew leader going through SEAL training, I found "pregame" talks helpful as we assembled to do challenging events such as log PT or carrying boats for long distances on land. We all had a role to play, and we would rotate the toughest job of the group at regular intervals. We built a team under the boat and log instead of having a team fall apart. No drama or bickering was allowed. 

The goal was to keep the "main thing the main thing." That meant moving as fast as we could, which meant "fast as the slowest person." We won as a team, and we lost as a team. We took the losses the same way we took the wins, discussed what worked, what did not and fixed it if needed. At the end of each day, we had a quick 10-minute huddle to stretch and talk about the day and how to do better. We also put it behind us and discussed the schedule for tomorrow's events.

Assess or Guess

Regular assessment, whether it's monthly or quarterly, is not just a formality. It's a crucial tool to check both individual and team progress. Without it, you may find yourself in a period of low productivity and not realize it. These assessments could be physical fitness scores, individual and group tactical skills, or pre-deployment requirements that must be met to be a deployable asset.

Before deploying, the long periods of "work-ups" meant the units would get qualified in all the jobs needed. In SEAL platoons, that meant having medics, snipers, communications experts, dive supervisors, jump supervisors and countless other qualifications. Then the individual qualifications were placed together to accomplish mission tasks. 

Many months were spent practicing and testing our individual and group skills to meet and exceed the standards required before deployments. Relying on the entire chain of command, from the commanding officer to the newest Team Guy and everyone in-between to do their job, perfect their craft and know their strengths and weaknesses is how you move forward. Holding each other accountable and using each other's strengths to help with another's weaknesses requires checking the ego at the door before entering the team room.

As a young candidate or recruit preparing for any job in the military, you have to be open to long-term preparation. This means patience in progress, working on weaknesses and understanding that you are applying to the ultimate team activity -- being a part of a military unit. 

Trusting the process as you prepare, knowing that it has been proven effective, will also help you gain patience for yourself and others on your team. Self-assessment is equally important in the pre-military phase, as team or unit assessment is when you are in the military training or preparing for deployments. This assessment will guide you in your next steps every time. Be open to testing everything, especially your weaknesses.

You will know you are becoming a better team player when you shift your focus from yourself to the team. As a boat crew leader going through SEAL training, I did not have time to worry about how I was feeling. I was not internally focused at all. I was focused on the events and others around me and getting people from Points A to B with the right equipment, the right mindset and on time. This shift from internal to external focus shows your growing unity and shared responsibility with the team.

The days will be long and the efforts great, but gratitude helps you remind yourself that "you don't have to be here. ... You get to be here." 

Remembering why you started down this path of service in the first place is especially critical as you will be tasked with an internal dialogue at some point asking, "Why are you doing this to yourself?" You better have an answer quickly. But, overall, being more about how your team is doing will make the days go by much faster and the work much easier. "Teamwork makes the dream work."

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