Teamwork Lessons From Navy SEALs

You might have a plan, but be ready to make adjustments at any time -- our instructors always made drills just a little more interesting.

Navy SEALS are the ultimate team. Through precision teamwork, they accomplish almost-impossible feats, such as safely hunting down Osama bin Laden at night in a foreign country. While each SEAL is a formidable fighting machine, it’s the team that does amazing things. Working in the insurance industry isn’t hazardous to life and limb, but it’s also a team endeavor. Success requires well-honed teams of underwriters, actuaries, agents, marketers, IT experts and others. No one succeeds without good teammates — something I was taught during team-building activities and something I was reminded of recently. After attending a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference in San Diego, 32 of us attended a Navy SEAL boot camp on Coronado Island. This “light” boot camp was a great experience, giving us a small insight into what our servicemen and -women go through during initiation and the importance of teamwork in the military and business. We were put into two teams of 16 that were then broken up into four boat crews with people of similar heights. There was the usual physical training, during which we were told we were too hot (so we had to cool off and get into ocean) and then too clean (so we had to roll in the sand) and then too dirty (so we had to get back into the ocean). There were team obstacle races, memory games, log drills, runs, cold ocean work and more — all starting at 5:30 a.m. So why wasn’t I in my comfortable hotel bed at that early hour? Because it was fun, and, once I started, I didn’t want to let my team — or myself — down. Finishing the boot camp was something I couldn’t have done on my own, but having teammates meant I didn't get an automatic pass. I still had to learn to work with those teammates in the same way mountain climbers must work with theirs — and you must work with yours. See also: The Keys to Forming Effective Teams Here are some lessons I learned while at the boot camp: Help, encourage and trust your teammates  While racing and carrying a log overhead, the first thing our four-man boat crew did was try and assess how we could best help each other carry the weight. We knew we needed to step in-time so that we would not trip on each other. Walter, an ex-Marine, called out the steps from the rear. During the race, another teammate’s shoulder became very sore due to a recent operation. I moved forward to take his weight. We stayed positive, encouraged each other — and we ended up beating the young guys. Communicate and establish a shared vision At first, it was a little hard to communicate (as none of us knew each other), but we knew that the sooner we could communicate the sooner we’d have an advantage. Together, we decided what the core mission and everyone’s role was. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of goals when faced with challenges. Whether you support your team by linking arms and sitting in the ocean while being pounded by waves or implement software or work to win market share, a shared vision will keep the team focused and on-track. Be flexible, keep it fun and stay warm You might have a plan, but be ready to make adjustments at any time. Just when we thought we understood a drill, our instructors would make it a little more interesting. Todd, my teammate with the sore shoulder, got our boat crew singing during our runs. I encouraged our crew to hug to stay warm when many began to shiver from the cold-water drills. Together, as a team, we finished the boot camp. There were some who gave up or got hurt; they grabbed a doughnut and a coffee and left. But we hung in there, breaking the boot camp activities down into one task at a time — and we got through each of those tasks together. All of us will inevitably have our own mountains to climb and oceans to cross. Yet, regardless of the landscape, we will require the help of others to reach our destination. Through the power of positive teamwork, we can harness skills beyond our own and achieve success we might not otherwise see.

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