September 2019

Building Teams

by Ron Hewett

Building a successful team doesn't come solely by reading a book or attending a lecture. There is just no substitute for sweat and persistence. Sitting on the sideline has no value. I am constantly inspired by those men and women who I have worked with and who persevered through adversity during military boot camps, and month's long U.S. Navy ship deployments. Moreover, business and industry have been equally inspiring. Such examples as corporations building a world-class safety program, companies reversing the downward trend in their bottom line or a corporate group attending a day long outdoor team-building program have proven invaluable in their dedicated support. The similarities are stunning, and the recipe for success is consistent.

As a corporate trainer I would provide outdoor team building workshops for groups ranging from 20 to 100 participants. The programs were generally a full day of challenges segmented into 30-45 minute blocks where I would describe the challenge, discuss expectations of time to complete (usually about 15 minutes), then answer questions, and start the event. Better than 95 percent of the time, the group would be successful. We would then celebrate as a group and debrief the bases that made them successful, or if not, what may have been done better.

The intensity at the beginning of the challenge was startling. The group's focus during the challenge was equally noteworthy. The kinship they developed by encouraging each other and sharing in success when the job was completed successfully was lasting. Let's use this example as a paradigm for building your team.

Start with a challenge. What is it that we need to do? Who are we doing it for? Our country? Our company? Our safety? Our livelihood? Be clear in your expectations. SMART goals are a must—Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic and Trackable. No one can be expected to perform their role if they don't know what the end result looks like. Marines are told what graduation day in front of their parents will look like. A dock worker is reminded what going home healthy means to his or her family. Everyone needs that picture in front of them!

Make a commitment. You must share your conviction. That's why goals must be agreed upon. It may be a stretch in their minds now, but we can do this!

Let urgency work for you. As General MacArthur said, the reason for all military disasters can be summed up in two words… "Too Late!" Now get going!

Break down the plan to reach the final goal into simple tasks. There are no points awarded for the grandest plan. Everyone doing their part in the moment is the best assurance that the team will prevail. We must persist!

Create a scoreboard. Your goal has to be trackable. Are we making progress? One day at a time in boot camp. Another good month for the company. Another shift without incident. Don't lose sight of the goal, and build on successes.

Emphasize the value of perfection and improvement. Encourage feedback. Continue to simplify. Never rest and accept what you know you can accomplish. Raise the bar!

Know your team. Appreciate individual strengths. Understand weaknesses. Motivate by making demands. Expect top performance from everyone!

When I took command of the Navy's largest ammunition ship, I applied the above principles. I shared my expectations. We would approach every mission and exercise with the intent of perfection. If results didn't meet expectations, we would work to improve. I kept the crew constantly informed of our progress. We left home and deployed in support of the first Gulf War. Despite arduous conditions the crew persisted. We never let up. When we returned to our home port nearly a year later, we received the "Battle E" which is awarded by the Navy to the ship which displayed the highest standards of performance in its class. We celebrated as a team!