Navy SEALs teach your business about collaboration

Tony Duynstee treated Collabosphere attendees to an entertaining and enlightening talk about his experience with the Navy SEALs – he was a SEAL from 1999 to 2007 and now serves on the board of the Navy SEAL Foundation – and how these experiences can inform your own day-to-day business.

Training your elite team

Thanks in part to daring rescues and well-publicized raids, there’s an aura of glamour attached to the SEALs, even though the bulk of their training and work is obviously anything but glamorous.

“Behind the hype and the marketing, there is something that is culturally different about the SEALs,” Duynstee said. “We’re all different, but there’s something that shapes [all of us].”

That culture starts on day one. SEAL training is notoriously difficult and intense – and even if you’re Rambo, you’re not making it through if you can’t be a team player. More people fail than succeed, just as most well-meaning but poorly-planned collaboration initiatives fail.

SEALs essentially literally live out the lazy metaphors that get tossed out in board rooms: they’re actually in boats, paddling against crashing waves, working together to escape sink-or-swim situations. Pressure shapes them, just as it reveals the true colors of your own team members. If people are wilting under the heat of your training, they may not be good fits for the team – ever. This is why Zappos pays a bonus to employees who bow out after a probationary period; if there isn’t a cultural fit, it’s best to move on. This is also why some companies are willing to put a premium on collaborators during the hiring process; it’s easier to teach someone a new skill (usually) than to encourage them to change themselves to neatly align with company culture.

Shoot, move, communicate

“Shoot. Move. Communicate.” That’s a SEAL mantra – and it wouldn’t so work well as “Meet. Discuss. Revise. Reconvene. Shoot. Rest.”

Put a premium on action and making progress. “Movement is life,” as Brad Pitt says in World War Z.

Communication is just as essential. And not just old-fashioned, top-down professional communication, but…

Brutally honest communication

“We communicate at a very high level and we communicate a lot. It’s brutally honest communication and can come from any level. That’s where we really can differentiate ourselves from the rest of the military… how flexible and adaptable we are.”

Duynstee urges your own business to find its path toward brutal honesty; create a culture in which people can really communicate and be critical without fear of appraisal. Everyone gets a voice. That doesn’t mean the SEALs have eliminated the org chart altogether; when leadership makes a decision, the team falls in line. But those decisions should be – must be – guided by the opinions and expertise of the individuals.

Check out our full Collabosphere session page to see other fascinating talks, featuring leading brands and agencies like CBS, Pinkberry and RAPP.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.