When a small group of people band together to do something extraordinary, the rest of us scratch our heads in wonder. Whether it’s an unranked basketball team outplaying an undefeated powerhouse or a little-known startup becoming the overnight market leader, David and Goliath stories capture our attention and inspire us.
We cheer for successful underdogs, and we even dream about being like them—a tightly knit team of ordinary people doing extraordinary things under difficult circumstances. That’s an unstoppable team, one that brings diverse gifts to bear on the team’s goals through a shared sense of purpose and a deep commitment to each other. You can assemble as many individual superstars as you’d like, but they won’t become unstoppable unless they believe in each other and in their collective mission.
When young men and women who want to join the SEALs first hear about Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEAL school, they become obsessed with the grueling physical exertion that lies ahead. But what gets you through the training is a balance of mental, emotional, and physical strength, combined with your greatest asset as a SEAL: the people around you.
Whether hunting for a war criminal deep in the mountains of Bosnia or conducting classified combat mini-submersible operations at night 30 feet underwater with hand signals (squeezes) as the only means of communication, SEAL Team is bound together by a common purpose and a mentality of “I’ve got your back.” SEALs place the success of the team above individual needs because the team’s needs come to represent their individual needs, too.
Unstoppable teams aren’t reserved for elite forces in the military. In sports, in business, in communities, in every facet of life, developing the qualities of an unstoppable team is essential if you want to thrive in chaos and break away from the pack. It might sound crazy, maybe even superhuman, but it’s within your reach.
Caring is the cornerstone for building trust and persistence in any group. When people feel cared for and when they care about the tasks and goals at hand, they are willing to step beyond their perceived limits and dare to do something greater than they originally thought possible. If you’re willing to commit to caring for and serving others, then you can become a truly unstoppable force for making greatness happen.
There are four actions—connect, achieve, respect, and empower—that, taken together, lie at the heart of every great team. When these four acts of caring are activated, anything is possible.
Any well-constructed and highly functioning small team can harness it. If you want to be a great team builder, then you need to learn to become a great relationship builder first. It starts with you. Let’s now discuss the foundational component of every great team.
Connect: No matter what industry you work in or what position you hold, your success depends on your ability to build human relationships. At the center of relationship building is empathy—the ability to place yourself in your colleagues’ shoes, to understand their point of view, or more important, their feelings. Building connections with others requires empathy, and empathizing requires that you show vulnerability and act with transparency.
If that sounds a lot like the role that parents play in a child’s life, that’s not a mistake. It’s this level of care that makes some teams unstoppable and others just mediocre.
As a leader, you don’t have an automatic, innate connection. You must build it through the three Cs:
communication–– physical, mental, emotional;
credibility––integrity, accountability, humility;
commitment––reliability, consistency, focus.
Achieve: Teams exist for one reason: to achieve results. Unstoppable teams exist in all environments of crisis, creativity, and productivity, and they all strive to achieve goals where the outcome is uncertain—over-the-horizon (OTH) goals that lie beyond our visibility and push us out of our comfort zone.
The goals that most unstoppable teams aspire to reach exist beyond the line of sight of any one individual. The team leader’s role is to help team members see well beyond the visible horizon and find ways to surpass real and/or imagined limitations. The team leader’s actions involve the five As of Achievement:
Aspire. Bring the goal to life by helping team members personally connect to it. Give them hope and a reason to believe that their collective efforts can achieve the task.
Assume. Give your team the space, resources, and confidence to do their jobs.
Assess. Initiate performance assessments frequently and transparently to avoid surprises and unify the team.
Assure. Encourage and reassure your team of their purpose, progress, and perspective; help team members overcome their fears and doubts.
Appreciate. Show enthusiasm and gratitude for both individual efforts and team progress.
Respect: If you want your team to care about their customers, show them how to care for each other. This sets the example that carries forward in all interactions. As a team leader, you reap what you sow. Your team will act the way you do.
Respect as a verb is not a passive trait; it’s all the actions you take within your team and outside the team to shine a light on the team’s skills and capabilities and to show how the team can contribute to others’ success. Your job as a team builder is to take the lead highlighting other people’s skills and articulating how those capabilities can help the team.
Mutual respect is a powerful adhesive when the team comes under pressure. People who feel respected are more confident to express their ideas. They aren’t wasting energy thinking of how not to look stupid; instead they focus on using their abilities to help the team solve the problem. Put simply, respect fuels greater levels of contribution. When you create an environment of mutual respect, you also eliminate the fear of being ignored, humiliated, or victimized.
Three elements of respect establish an environment of respect that, when interwoven with the trust you have built and the direction you have set forth, will create a platform for developing empowered teammates. These are:
Realize. Respect comes from two places: from your authority and from your actions; the respect garnered from the latter is more valuable and more sustainable than the former.
Recognize. Respect derives from results. As a team builder, it’s your job to bring forth and acknowledge the superpowers of each of your teammates.
Require. Respect isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a requirement, and it needs to be shared and reciprocated.
Empower: When the training tool the Perfect Pushup (made by Perfect Fitness) became a breakout success, company leader Alden Mills was called a one-hit-wonder entrepreneur. If the Perfect Pushup had been an album, it would have received multiple platinum awards within its first year. What it got instead was a whole host of comments from industry veterans saying, in essence, “Enjoy it while you can. You got lucky, kid.”
Yet over the next eight years, five more of the company’s products—Perfect Pullup, Perfect Multi-Gym, Perfect Ab Carver, Perfect Cooling Towel, and Perfect Smartphone Armband—earned the equivalent of platinum status, and several others sold at gold level. No longer could someone say, “You got lucky, kid.” That’s because Perfect Fitness had created a system for developing products that sold in the millions.
What was the secret of the team behind these series of successes? Empowerment. The products didn’t come from one inventive genius; they came from the entire team. Every single person on the team owned the product-idea process.
When people are owners, they think cooperatively. They share ideas, test new concepts, and focus on finding the best idea no matter who comes up with it. They act selflessly.
Nothing shows people you care more than dedicating time to helping them learn new skills. Be careful, however: telling people what you know (and what they don’t know) isn’t the same as teaching them. Empowerment isn’t a task you can check off your list or test on paper; it develops over time and depends on creating an environment where every person on the team shares lessons learned and feels a responsibility to coach and support other team members’ growth.
Team building and teamwork are personal. They’re about a group of human beings, all with their own quirks of personality, their own superpowers and weaknesses, coming together to do something amazing. Have some faith that you’ve done the work, or that you’re prepared to do the work, of opening yourself and your heart to building relationships that are deep, sturdy as hell, and immensely satisfying to your heart and your head.