Culture, Teams and the US Navy SEALS

US Navy Seals

The Navy SEALS is all about WE

Recently I’ve been reading and thinking about how certain structured groups relate to successful business models. In particular, I was considering the ME culture that exist in some organizations vs. the WE culture in others.  So how does a ME vs. WE culture impact a company and its future?

The very best example I can think of to describe the difference between a WE Culture vs. a ME Culture is the US Navy SEALS. The overwhelming success of this elite organization exists because of the strength in their team – their incredibly strong WE factor.

There have been countless books and speakers on the exploits, training, habits and results of Navy SEAL teams. It is surprising how many similarities actually exist between most businesses and the SEALS special operations group when discussing teamwork and entrepreneurship. What if some of those traits could be mapped over to your business? How could you be the recipient of a significant upswing in your results?

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

SEAL Philosophies

In April 2014 I attended a surprise birthday party in Orlando, Florida. One of the guests was a very interesting man – retired Navy Seal who is today a highly respected business coach. He has taken the concept of WE beyond the boardroom. His coaching methodology includes a much broader focus – it is more about success in life produces success in business.

Truly successful people are members of not only strong business units but also healthy family units. An example of some of the most successful power couples can be found here. We can recognize that there is a very strong belief that what is needed most in modern life is a commitment to continued excellence (mental and moral) in every domain. These ideas, support the development of a full and complete life, whether it is with professional or personal Sea, Air, Land Teams – we all need a ‘swim buddy’.

Five Mountains self-assessment by Mark Devine

  • Physical: business as well as the technical skills required for the domain you want to enter.
  • Mental: ability to persevere, make decisions, focus, and visualize success.
  • Emotional: resilience, open to relationships, keep negative emotions under control.
  • Intuitional: level of awareness, listen more than speak, strong self-esteem, insightful.
  • Spiritual: strong values, at peace, willing to make sacrifices, see the big picture.

Moving from the ME to the WE

Today we see far too many organizational cultures where entitlement, selfishness and ego are the norm. In many start-up companies we see an extremely predominant ME. Sometimes it may even go to the extreme of egomania. The reality is that’s the nature of the start-up business model. Necessary to get a business idea off the ground and running.

So what comes next when the company is viable? What is best next step for the business? How does one create long term, sustainable growth? This is the point where building and establishing the right team is going to make the difference. This is what takes the ME position to the WE – the handoff of individual power to team strength.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” ~ John Donne, English Poet

The True Value in the WE Culture

Moving to a WE culture can be a particularly challenging step for smaller, early stage companies. There may be resistance from a variety of stakeholders ranging from top to bottom. There are a number of longer term (let’s call them ‘stalled’) companies that struggle getting ahead  mostly because of their inattention and/or wish to maintain a ME culture.

2011 Road Trip (16)Traditionally a start-up business begins with one or two founders who then surround themselves with an assortment of people with a ‘Lone Wolf’ mindset. These individuals typically   provide contract services and are drawn to opportunities that offer greater autonomy and more exciting work activities relative to more established firms. They often have a career history of doing exciting work in multiple early stage start-ups.

Lone Wolves (let’s call them start-up ‘Joiners’) sign on because they are more interested in technical or functional work activities and less in managing and building a company. They thrive in an entrepreneurial environment and are extremely effective because of their motivation to solve individual and difficult technical challenges. Joiners have a strong preference to be incredibly animated by their work while never having to worry about carrying any real responsibility.

Some start-ups get off to a great start thanks to the invaluable input of the Joiner mentality and some start-ups may never get off the ground or be heard from again.  It doesn’t matter to the Lone Wolf. They are not there for the long haul. They make their contributions, build their reputation and move on. This is why a start-up company is often an example of a very strong and definite ME culture.

Lone wolf individuals are definitely ME’s and, in some cases, maybe Mini ME’s.

The Benefits of Graduating from ME to WE

start-upOnce the revenue is coming through the door and a firm footing is established, the business model needs to change. A different culture becomes necessary – that would be a people culture. This is particularly important if the company is anticipating being acquired in the future.

Establishing a stable, team-based company culture makes it easier to recruit people looking to add long term value; it also is a necessary retention tool. Of course, team oriented companies are always more attractive to investors.

A shared purpose is what bridges the gap between good and great, mediocrity and superiority.

 The Navy SEALS Watchword is Teamwork

So how does a company switch the point of focus from an individual level to one that considers overall benefits to the company? This is the question that led me to think about the US Navy SEALS. The SEALS have created a very enviable position, reputation and culture where there is absolutely no place for ME.

Navy SEALS are Teams and they have three priorities – People, the Purpose and the Mission.

The mission always comes first, followed by the team that supports the mission and then the individuals who comprise the team. Everything in the SEAL organization is built around a Team culture.

TEAMSA successful WE culture can be as tight as a healthy family or it can look more like allies. One thing the WE culture provides is the ability to engage with various personalities who value serving a purpose that is larger than any one person. This is where the SEALS have excelled. They form teams of individuals with a multiplicity of complementary motivations. The ideal SEAL team works best in squads of eight or fewer. Having said that, SEALS can also be a team of two or platoons of sixteen strong.

Culture provides resilience in tough times.

Team Growth and Development

A couple hundred years ago a team meant a pair of animals wearing a harness and pulling a heavy load together. Those beasts of burden had no idea why they are doing what they are doing. There was no concept of working together as a team. To them, there was no genuine purpose except that they would be watered and fed after doing their day’s work.

How often do humans feel like they are thrown together with other people for no real purpose other than to pull a load that has no real meaning to them? In today’s start up environment, once the Lone Wolves have moved on to their next conquest, what is left behind? Who will lead the pack next? This is when a company needs to re-evaluate and plan their move from the ME position and begin building a culture of WE.

The Navy SEALS Way

On the road to the WE culture, a company needs a well-conceived and executed onboarding programs that convey the importance of teams and the company’s sense of higher purpose. The message has to be loud, clear and focused on what will serve the team/group/company best.

Navy SEALS train in an environment where they are provided with solid and regular feedback. Teams of very self-aware people are created with the ability to read situations carefully and react accordingly. With self-awareness, each team member understands whether they have a tendency to be a fixer or a delegator. This means they can be contemplative and consider multiple options when something goes wrong and requires attention or direction.

The strength of a team is in its members. Only then can they be SEAL-worthy teams.

Get Onboard with Navy SEALS Thinking

WE Culture

Creating trust, purpose, honour, dignity, respect, loyalty, and integrity are critical to the onboarding and training of a Navy SEAL.  When a Navy SEAL costs $25 million to train, it only makes sense that they be given the right tools and the trust to get on with the job.

Within the business environment, onboarding programs may include assigning mentors, guides or advisors – ‘swim buddies’. Examples may be:

  1. Alignment with someone senior who they might emulate
  2. A peer who they would admire and consider better at the job than they are
  3. A subordinate who is doing a job better than they did in that role

 “Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds” ~ Navy SEAL Team Saying

Wrap Up – Navy SEALS and the Value of WE in your business

If you have a few minutes, Forbes did a great interview with Bob Schoulz that is worth reading A Navy Seal Talks about Chaos, Leadership and Innovation

“Teamwork: Simply stated, it is less Me and more We.”- Unknown

Is it time for your company to think about building your high performance team that takes you to the next level? Let’s talk about your best approach and where I can add value to your process.

Solving IT Search & Leadership Challenges

JKS Talent Network is an exclusive Priority Search Practice specialized in the recruitment of Mid-Management to Executive Level Talent. We yse a fresh perspective and a purposeful approach.

Contact by email or call Janis directly @ (604) 731-2073  

Why not subscribe to News & Views and you’ll never miss a blog posting?

Feel free to repost, retweet or forward this content.

Expect More Than a Recruiter with Talent Search Consultant Janis Strathearn