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Professional teams: a critical component of success

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Fox
  • 90th Missile Wing vice commander
Reflecting back on the past couple of weeks, including ten days of intense scrutiny by 20th Air Force and Air Force Global Strike Command evaluators, the importance of teamwork and the crucial role teams play in our day-to-day mission success became even clearer. Over a ten day period, our operations, maintenance, security and logistics processes were reviewed, dissected, tested and assessed. During those comprehensive looks, evaluators made many observations but the one I found myself coming back to in the end was the identification of 22 "Professional Teams" who were highlighted for recognition.

Like most people, I already knew teamwork was important to a group's success -- we talk about it in every leadership course we attend -- but watching our "Professional Teams" take the stage to be recognized in front of the wing for their collective accomplishments gave me a moment of pause. These Airmen and government civilians may each have been the best in their individual tasks, but together as a team they performed in a manner that got the mission done and impressed those watching.

In his book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, John Maxwell acknowledges the fact that "everyone knows that teamwork is a good thing -- in fact it's essential." He also makes it very clear that the question is not whether you will participate in activities with others. You will. The real question is "will your involvement with others be successful?" To answer that question in our own unique situations, he provides both leaders and followers a useful set of tools. Though the book, as its title suggests, goes into detail in 17 areas, I'd like to highlight three.

One thing I noticed as the teams formed on the stage was that each member of the team was different. Now that may not be an Earth-shattering revelation, obviously they are different, but the differences I'm talking about are their roles and places on the team. Maxwell talks about the importance of developing team members and categorizes individuals on a team based on four different needs. Some are "enthusiastic beginners" and need direction from the team leader. Others are "disillusioned learners" who need coaching. A leader needs to support those who fall in the "cautious completer" category and "self-reliant achiever" is his the final category. The team leader needs to give responsibility to team members who fit that description.

Think about the team or teams you are part of -- what category do you fit in? As a leader, have you recognized the different needs of members within your team? Recognizing these needs and taking the appropriate steps is a sure fire way to draw your team's true potential.

I had a very successful supervisor once whose mantra was "communicate, communicate, communicate--up, down and sideways!" Your ability to work together as a team, and the ultimate success or failure of your team's efforts, depends on your ability to effectively communicate. Maxwell's "Law of Communication" illustrates this important concept and provides three standards for success: be consistent, be clear and be courteous. Have you ever found yourself frustrated because just when you thought you knew what your supervisor wanted, that expectation changed? If you are a leader, make up your mind. We talk a lot about making choices, taking action and running toward danger and not away from it. You can't do any of those things if you don't have a clear and consistent way ahead. In the presentation to every new Airman arriving on base, the commander and I discuss three simple but important expectations. One of those expectations is for them to treat each other like they'd want to be treated. Some would call this "common courtesy" and many have grown up with that as an integral part of their underlying value system.

Focus back to your team or teams (yes, most of us are part of multiple teams.) If you are setting the path for the team, are you doing it in a clear and consistent manner? Do your team members understand the task at hand and are questions answered to clarify intent? Finally, think about your team's interactions--how professional are they? Courtesy is simple, yet many times we forget even the simple things and those may be the most powerful tools in our toolkits! If you are the leader, never forget that you set the tone, and your example must be one that others can follow.

Finally, in his "Law of the Edge," Maxwell talks about the difference between two equally talented teams. Very simply, that difference is leadership. Good leaders generate improvement in their teams. Team members' confidence goes up, morale soars and there is a noted improvement in productivity. In the profession of arms, that improvement in productivity directly equates to an increase in combat capability and mission success. A feeling of ownership and confidence is generated in a team whose leader delegates both the responsibility and authority to get the mission done. Successful leaders recognize that their team members require different forms of motivation and create an environment that pushes individuals to achieve their very best. Finally, the ability to quickly to adapt to a new situation and learn is a vital component of success. According to Maxwell, leaders who learn quickly lift themselves to a higher level and then they lift the others around them.

Are your leaders taking your team to the next level? Do you find your team stuck in a quagmire of "we've always done it that way?" How quickly do you and your team adapt?
In a preseason letter to his University of California, Los Angeles men's basketball team, Coach John Wooden wrote, "In every group activity there must be supervision and leadership and a disciplined effort by all, or much of our united strength will be dissipated pulling against ourselves." These sage words are just as applicable today in our wing's mission of providing preeminent combat capability across the spectrum of conflict. Though 22 specific teams were highlighted during our recent evaluations, every team on this base has an integral role in the success of that mission. It is up to you, whether follower or leader, to use every tool in your toolkit to make that mission success a reality.