I want to share a little story with you.
Over the course of my professional life, I’ve learned a lot about teams. I spent 13 years as a Navy SEAL with the majority of my career at the pinnacle of the SEAL community.
We operated under extremely stressful conditions having to make critical decisions on little guidance and even less information while facing an enemy who was constantly changing and challenging our next move, all while operating in a competitive landscape that was moving so fast that we had to adapt as a team if we were to stay relevant.
And by “we” I’m not referring to just SEALs. I worked with civilians, foreign nationals, and other governmental agencies, too, and working together and getting them to support our missions and share their resources was no easy task.
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Anyway, today I translate elite team performance from the SEAL Teams to business teams, and I’ve seen many different types of teams, ranging from my time in the SEALs to working with businesses today, and it is astonishing to see what companies are willing to settle for with their teams.
The first company I consulted for was a Fortune 500 company, and it was mind-boggling to me how they even stayed afloat!
- Nobody had any idea who did what.
- Roles and responsibilities? What’s that?
- Hey, let’s have seven meetings about the same topic and waste everybody’s time rather than being clear in one (that’s me being facetious).
- Oh, what’s that you say? You want to wait for the “right information?” Guess what, you’ll never get it because “perfect” doesn’t exist.
Me and my sarcasm (or “my sarcasm and I” for all you nitpickers out there) could go on but I won’t–I’ll save that for another blog post (you don’t want to “peak” too soon, you know.)
Anyway, I see why the majority of teams struggle, and it’s because they’re wasting tons of resources just to function while unknowingly setting themselves up for low employee engagement, turf wars, and turnover. They call themselves teams but don’t actually function as one. They are…bullshit teams.
It also demonstrates why the companies that settle for Bullshit Teams struggle and why their competition beats them at their own game. Bullshit teams get in their own way without even realizing it and they don’t see how. And that’s one of the reasons why they’re bullshit.
I also see their competition who are the bulletproof teams who have figured things out and keep figuring things out because they’re willing to adapt and change together.
After I left the SEAL Teams and started working in corporate organizations, I saw business teams working in a way that was stifling their potential. The problem was, they had only seen things from one perspective their whole careers. They didn’t know what bulletproof teams looked like because they had never been a part of one. At best, when I asked people about the last great team they were a part of, they had to think all the way back to high school.
These businesses were limited in the results they were producing simply because they had never been exposed to anything else, so they didn’t know what to aspire for, they didn’t know what was possible.
Every leadership workshop they had ever attended had all been centered around the concept of the “heroic leader”—the idea that a single person is gonna swoop in and solve all the organization’s problems.
These are the workshops geared toward building individual skills like how to build my listening skills or how I can be a more “authentic” leader–rather than building a team and letting leadership development be the byproduct.
Don’t get me wrong—workshops are important but more important is a strategy of ongoing support for the knowledge gained from those workshops.
You can’t just send somebody to a workshop and hope that they’ll apply what they learn. Hope isn’t a strategy.
Anyway, the problem is that leaders don’t have the answers to these challenges and they’re afraid to say they don’t.
Or, they’re afraid to ask because there’s no trust. No transparency. There’s fear of what others might think. So, they don’t. Here’s what they do:
- They hoard information which means they don’t add the value they could and they don’t find better ways of working together.
- They punch the clock and leave.
- It’s not important to them who they work with or why they do what they do.
- It’s not important to face difficult conversations to work better together because they just don’t care (but what is important to them is getting their work done and heading home unscathed).
That’s what I normally see as “important” for people.
By the way, I’m sorry if all this seems so negative, I’m just sharing with you what I see in business today. I’m not a negative person (I’m quite the opposite, actually) but I also believe that awareness in anything is half the battle. The other half is a willingness to execute.
Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are really just two types of teams, and I’ll break them down into plain and simple language here.
I know the world is gray but I’m gonna make this black and white. Based on my experience, there are two types of teams: teams that are bullshit, and teams that are utterly bulletproof.
In bullshit teams, I see three team breakdowns:
#1) Team functioning that’s killing their performance.
Bullshit Teams operate under the guise of a team but don’t act anything like a team should because they don’t know how.
These “teams” are nothing more than groups of individuals who share the same space and call themselves a team, like a sales “team” that winds up encroaching on each other’s territories.
- These “teams” are more focused on “me” rather than “we.”
- They’re stifled by bureaucracy and unnecessary processes
- When asked what their team’s goals are they recite their company’s mission statement
- They’re led by leaders who have no idea what they’re doing and members don’t raise any issues because there’s no trust
- They’re incentivized as individuals but told to work as a team.
The cost is a significant amount of financial opportunity lost because people waste time tip-toeing around each other worried they’re going to offend the wrong person.
There’s more sabotage than there is trust and information sharing is non-existent, which only weakens the team’s output even more.
#2) Worthless conversations.
This is when words leave a person’s mouth but they don’t mean anything. There’s substance, but no value.
They say one thing but do another.
They communicate but they don’t connect.
Conversations are worthless when they remain at the surface level to avoid “rocking the boat,” or when they fear to say the wrong thing in front of the wrong person.
The problem is, having worthless conversations leads to five meetings when only one would’ve sufficed–it makes work take longer than it should.
The cost of worthless conversations is a slower problem-solving cycle time, apathy, and “hallway discussions” that undermine trust, transparency and the whole reason why the team exists in the first place.
#3) Wasted talent.
This is talent that exists but isn’t being used either because it’s in the wrong place or because it hasn’t been identified yet.
Wasted talent occurs when employees want to contribute more but don’t know how.
The cost of wasted talent is low employee morale, disengagement, subpar performance, turnover, excessive financial costs, and teamwork.
The next post will deep dive into each problem area.
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