The most fundamental action in the creation of a team, is forging relationships. The success of a unit is dependent upon the level of trust between individuals on the team. Trust is not a quality one can simply command, or assign. Trust is built over time, through shared experience. The best teams have been forged through the crucible of participation. There are three basic types of experience that create trusting relationships in teams.
Familial experience are those interactions where individuals on a team are able to play, talk, and eat. A leader who desires to create a strong team, will create opportunities for individuals to have laid back contact with other members of the team. Do not mistake competition for fun. The goal of these times together is to know one another outside of the context of the mission of the team. If you are building a military team, take them to a go-kart place, go bowling, or a barbeque. Don’t study operational tactics, not for familial experiences. If you are building a church team, don’t take them to a conference on prayer techniques. Invite families to an all-paid weekend at a lake.
People are wired as social animals. Trust cannot be built without understanding the personal side of their peers. Nothing is more personal than eating together; so build experiences where people are meeting and eating, unhurried. Give them time to hear one another, tell stories about their past and present, and have fun. Nothing builds a team like having a running inside joke. A wise leader will insist on having members of their team having familial experiences.
Victory experiences are those interactions where individuals on a team are rewarded for working together with winning. I’ll spend the least time here, because shared victory is the most obvious of the experiences. When a team is young, starting small is important. Get them lots of little victories to get momentum and confidence. A team should be built on family experience, and grown on victories.
Fighting through failures:
Leaders tend to fear allowing their team to suffer failure. This is a classic mistake. Logically, we believe that strength and confidence is the only kind of diet our teams should have. However, real life does not consist of a diet of victory only. Do not insulate your team from failure. A team is created through family experience, it is fed on victory; but it matures by handling defeat.
All military commanders know the truth; requiring your team to face giant obstacles that will end, repeatedly, in defeat will turn them into an efficient machine. Defeat is dangerous to a team, but, with proper leadership—it can be the hardening agent that turns a soft, muscly ball of potential into a tenacious, rock hard fighting machine.
How to negotiate the waters of defeat:
First, don’t get hung up on losing. It happens. You get knocked down. A leader must use their ability to inspire after a defeat. Emotions after a defeat are low. Really low. A leader must get in the emotional muck with the team, but not let it become their identity. A leader will use their emotions, their aura, their words, and their relationships to inspire their team to get back up and fight twice as hard.
Second, a leader will learn from the mistakes of a team. The whole team needs to learn, and it is the leader’s job to help the process. Simple questions like, “What can we learn from this?” or “What did we do wrong that we need to get right?” or “What mistakes did we make?” can go a long way in helping a team learn.
Last, a leader must demonstrate an iron will to getting back into the fight. Heading straight back into the fray is not a good plan. Rest is mandatory. Leaders must insist on down time after a defeat, and use that time to gear up for fighting again. It may seem a time of rest would go against the fighting spirit, but a leader who refuses to rest, or get the team to rest, will put a team’s efficiency into the toilet. Rest is essential.
But you come out of that rest like a hard shot. Hit the mission with fury. You’ll find your team is better than it was before, and ready to get back to work.