Archive for January, 2016

Building HPTs Rule #6: We Will Always Have Each Other’s Back

During high school, I had a passion for photography. So, I converted my parent’s half bath into a darkroom, allowing me to experiment more freely with the art form. I had dreams of becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic. This desire, combined with a lifelong love for water sports ignited an interest in underwater photography, which led me to take up scuba diving as a hobby. One of the cardinal rules of scuba diving is to always dive with a buddy. There is a list of reasons dive buddies are important. One in particular comes to mind when considering rule #6 for building high performing teams.

Most of my diving experiences took place in two places—off the coast of the Florida Keys and in the waters around the island of Bimini. Anyone racking up dive time in those waters knows they are likely to encounter sharks from time to time. While an underwater shark encounter might sound scary to a landlubber, it is much safer than surface swimming in the ocean. To understand why, we only have to empathize with the shark. To paraphrase an old adage, we need to swim a mile in his fins.

Sharks are athletes of the undersea world. Like most athletes, sharks burn more calories than some of their reef dwelling neighbors (think couch potatoes). As such, they need to consume more calories. Since sharks are unable to take advantage of GrubHub they have to hunt for their food, but like many of us, they want to expend the least possible amount of energy to consume the most calories (think fast food restaurant or opening a large bags of chips). So, even though they are predators of the undersea, they are not interested in taking down the biggest, meanest hombre out there.

When viewed from a boat, a swimmer may appear to be gliding (or floating) gracefully along the surface, but the view from below is a silhouette of something thrashing around the surface of the water like a weak, wounded or dying creature. To a shark, that looks a lot like the McDonald’s drive-thru lane.

If however, a shark encounters a creature, considerably larger than most other sea creatures, swimming around under the water looking all macho in his or her scuba gear, he may be curious but is unlikely to attack, because down there, size matters! So, if it is so safe down there why even bring up the subject of sharks when discussing the need for a dive buddy?

Well, so far, I have told you the truth, nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. The whole truth is that undersea divers are sometimes predators themselves, because there are few things tastier than really, really, really fresh Snapper or Grouper. Since few have the skill to snatch them up with our hands we must resort to the use of an undersea weapon (I preferred the Hawaiian Sling), which causes blood to be spilled. The problem with blood in water is twofold. First, a little bit goes a long way. Secondly, blood is another key indicator sharks look for when considering prospective takeout—think wounded.

If you ever find yourself under the ocean with a dive bag full of bleeding Red Snapper, and you encounter one or more sharks circling you, there are some important things to remember. First, don’t panic and try to out swim the shark. That is why a dive buddy is so important. You don’t have to out swim the shark. You just have to outswim your dive buddy. Just kidding!!!

Instead, you will want to continue moving very deliberately. Remember, thrashing around can signal you are weak or wounded, but remaining completely still can signal that you are already dead, and you do not want to look like easy prey. Next, you will want to get really close to, and back-to-back with, your dive buddy. First, it makes you look bigger—size does matter. Secondly, it is important to be back-to-back in order to provide a 360-degree view of your surroundings, and being face-to-face would just be weird. There are a number of additional steps you should take, but I will not share them at this time, because if you are crazy enough to find yourself in this situation without first receiving the proper training, you are unlikely to remember anything I am sharing here.

The point I am trying to make is that your peripheral vision, is limited to 45-degrees in either direction of dead ahead. So, when you encounter a hungry predator with lightning quickness and razor sharp teeth circling you, it is very helpful to have a 360 view (eyes behind your head). In this situation, your dive buddy literally has your back.

When I think of the quintessential high performing team (HPT), our military Special Forces come to mind. There is probably no better example of the highest level of performance from a small team, often in unimaginably dangerous situations, than that of America’s Elite (Navy Seals, Rangers, Delta Force Green Beret, Marines, and Special Forces ODA…). Not surprisingly, these teams operate on a day-to-day basis under some of the same principles described in my earlier HPT Rules blogs:

  1. Specialized skills are more important than hierarchy (Rules #4 & 5—no boundaries based on position, and honor and leverage each other’s strengths).
  2. The successful completion of the mission/objective is of paramount importance (Rule #1 & 3—work only on things that matter, and ensure strategic fit)
  3. Always have your buddy’s back, and never leave a teammate behind (Rule # 6—we will have each other’s back).

Make no mistake. The rigorous physical, emotional, psychological and intellectual training the members of these elite teams receive contributes to the courage and confidence they carry into every situation, but much of that courage comes from knowing you are not alone. Knowing that there is someone with you, who shares your dedication and devotion to the mission, and will be there for you, no matter how dicey the situation may become.

While I do not subscribe to the old adage, misery loves company, knowing that my teammates will fight with me, and for me, when things go sour instills loyalty to the team, and devotion to the completion of the mission.

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