Key principles for highly effective teams

Every moment of a Navy SEAL’s life is geared toward the word Team, according to the anonymous author of Team Secrets of the Navy SEALs: the Elite Military Force’s Leadership Principles for Business. The most difficult and dangerous military missions are assigned to teams of Navy SEALs, and the survival of each member of the team depends on every member thinking as a team. Thus the Navy SEALs provide a useful study in the characteristics of highly effective teams.

  • Naval Special Warfare is a strictly volunteer organisation, and anyone who is unwilling to complete an assigned task is free to leave;
  • Vigorous screening processes are applied to ensure that only the highest quality candidates make it onto teams;
  • Maximum team performance depends on identifying and using the specific talents of individual team members;
  • If any individual is unwilling to maintain the team spirit, that person’s gangrenous attitude needs to be cut from the team immediately;
  • Team leaders must always be aware of their teams’ morale level and identify and quench burnout before it happens;
  • Team members must be held accountable for their actions, but the team leader must not stifle their future efforts by being overbearing;
  • It is essential for development that the team be allowed to make and learn from mistakes without being micromanaged;
  • Being interested in team members and keeping them informed is a type of preventative maintenance;
  • The goal of a team is to develop its members, not to work them into submission.

An experienced business manager will already be aware of these principles; nonetheless, it is helpful to read about them from the particular context of the Navy SEALs.  A particularly interesting observation made by the author is: “You should keep an eye on those who do not make a fuss … a complaining sailor is a happy sailor.” The aim is not to get team members to complain for the sake of complaint, but to ensure that they are contributing their ideas for positive change within the organisation.

The book is fairly short, and easy and enjoyable to read, being filled with interesting anecdotes about life in the Navy SEALs, an organisation I suspect most readers have no desire to volunteer for. I recommend it to business leaders looking for a fresh perspective on how to make teams effective.


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