What Can High Performing Teams Learn From Military And Intelligence Professionals?

Civilian business leaders have a lot they can learn from our nation’s most elite special operations and intelligence professionals. With their no fail missions and large scale operations around the globe they have a lot on their plate and have to be effective 100% of the time.

Most business teams do not have that level of risk or danger everyday but the lessons that can be applied from our nations finest to our nations finest businesses. 
Below is some of what makes the top performing teams in and out of the government work at peak levels. 

Planning: It’s really hard to achieve goals that you don’t track and constantly assess. This is why the highest performing teams spend more time planning then you would think. That being said your plans should offer a bit of flexibility on how to achieve the goal. Let the people on the ground determine the best action and feed back up information for leadership to offer perspective. 

Tip: Try working through the entire scenario and make a checklist for the points in the process and assign a check point label. This will make it easy for the rest of the team to know the progress and everyone can align on what is coming up. 

Communication: Along with shooting and moving, communication is the third biggest tool that high performing military teams use to perform no fail missions. This goes well for any high performing team whether you are chasing down terrorists or deal flow.

You should streamline information and have a plan for how internal/external communications should happen and who to talk to when certain checkpoints are met. Knowing when to communicate is just as important as what to communicate. 

Tip: Has your team developed a shared language? Can you pass complex thoughts with a glance? High performing teams naturally build the ability to communicate through body language and build a shared vocabulary. Develop a shorthand for your team for things you do all the time and for more complex ideas to solidify understanding so communication can flow easily. 

Problem solving: Planning is a first step. However, plans are not good if they are static. There is a famous saying that “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.” which was shortened to, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. 

You need a team who is able to maneuver and think on their own or else you will be spending all of your time doing their job. If you hire well you should have trust in your team to get it done if you give them the support they need. 

Tip: Part of your team training you should be around scenario planning. Ask them open ended questions and see how they get to a solution and walk them through their thought process afterwards. It will help think through an issue with no impact and shed light on how they got to their solution. 

Resilience: The number one thing that elite military units screen for is resilience. This is because no matter how well trained a person is, if their natural instinct is to quit when things get difficult you will never finish anything big and you will never be able to count that they will be there when things get hard. 

You are most likely not taking your team into a gunfight but this still applies to finding people that will help you tackle the hardest issues your company will face. Whether that is a hard technical integration or a launch of a new brand. These things are very difficult and will require a team working together to get through the challenges. Can you rely on them when it counts? 

Tip: When choosing new hires its really easy to fall into the trap of picking the best looking resume or the candidate who can charm the interviewer. However, a better test is to see what problems the potential hire has faced and how they overcame it. 

Training: Did you know that most elite special operations teams train for their deployments as long or longer than they go away for? This is because when they are called on to do their jobs they have to know without hesitation that they can accomplish their task with as precise an effort as possible. 

If you are not training your teams or at least stimulating your job tasks in a setting where you can help them progress you are doing yourself and your teams a great disservice. You may think to yourself, how do I train a bunch of social media managers? They either know how to do it or they don’t. Wrong, there are so many ways you can incorporate training to make your team work more efficiently or to help new employees understand what to expect. 

Tip: Create a skills challenge to keep your team up to date with current topics or abilities. New technology has made the rate of innovation weed out companies that don’t take advantage of new communication or revenue streams. Building out your team skills will make your team more likely to stay. Invest time in your team and they will pay dividends.  

Awareness:  The crack of a branch or how heavy a car is sitting could be the difference between life and death for our service members. This is why so much effort is gone through to make sure that they have their head on a swivel when they go out on missions. 

You should be instilling this into your teams as well. Are they checking out the latest industry trends? Are you sending them to conferences to network? Are you publishing content so people are aware of you? 

This also goes for your everyday life. Are you walking around with your headphones in your ears all the time? If you are you have already failed your awareness test. Paying attention to your surroundings could be the difference between being targeted and not. Especially while traveling or when you do not speak the language. 

Tip: Try to remember the visual profiles of people and cars around you. How many license plates can you remember on a street? Can you describe what the person who served you was wearing? Keep testing yourself and you will be surprised what you can remember.  

Trust: SEAL Team 6 leadership was interviewed by Simon Sinek and he asked them what did they look for in their members. They drew a 2×2 grid with the sides labeled low trust / high trust on the x and and low performer / high performer on the Y. They said they would rather have a lower performer with higher trust then a higher performer with low trust. The reason, the ones who could perform are great but not if they are not trusted by the team. 

You should always be ready to fire high performers if they are a detriment to the function of the whole team. If you built your team right they should be able to do way more together than one person’s effort in most cases. Teams with higher trust of each other will able to go further an do more. 

Tip: Determine what you are and are not willing to accept when it comes to team behavior and make that known. Keep your team cohesion as your top priority and build trust with your teams by having shared experiences. That is our specialty at CIV_GRP. Drop us a line e@civ_grp.com.