Commentary by Maj. James Bartran, flight commander
36th Student Squadron, Squadron Officer College
12/14/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al -- Henry
Ward Beecher once stated, "No man is more cheated than the selfish
man." Individualism, entitlement, self-servitude and egotism well
ingrained in our personalities are cancers to team development. The cure
rests in selflessness, genuine caring of others and a strategic
The implementation of these traits requires thought.
A great team is greater than the sum of its parts. How do you build such
a team? How do leaders foster team development and cohesiveness?
Great teams take time, work, and most of all, strong relationships ...
real relationships. However, in today's anti-analytical, distant culture
that demands instant gratification; we expect results to just happen.
We should approach team development in a way that is less like social
media, where one has a sense of control and can manage social
interactions, and more like a friendship with all its intangible
imperfections and unexpected synergies. What follows are thoughts on
fostering this type of team.
It's not about you
We all have a propensity to think we live in a bubble. You don't.
As a leader, this truth carries more importance for you. Whatever your
career ambitions, personal problems or insecurities, fostering teamwork
demands equality. Each person or role has its place, and they are
self-defined based on the team dynamic, creating balance.
This holistic mindset closely matches "the long grey line," as stated by
Gen. Douglas MacArthur. All players have a place where they add the
most value. This balance requires a degree of selflessness, and our
mission sets require us to hold true or risk failure as a nation, Air
Force, team and individually.
Walk the walk
Your actions speak louder than your words, and this truth is no less
relevant while fostering teamwork. When leading a team, remember the
importance of holding high standards from the simplest of requirements,
such as uniform wear, to the demands of highly detailed missions.
No one can truly know your mindset, your motivations, aspirations and
thoughts, but they can know how you chose to behave, dress and act and
your true character. This becomes the bedrock for fostering teamwork.
This leaves little mystery as to where people stand, which in turn
allows them to branch out and begin their journey as a team. Finally,
this helps the team in role clarity, eliminating the individual mindset.
In its place, individuals begin thinking they are part of something
bigger than themselves.
Relationships mean everything
During the most adverse encounters a team will ever face, the
foundational relationships and friendships between its members bind them
together. Organizations pale in importance to the brothers and sisters
beside you during hardship. This identification, in turn, serves to
strengthen the team even more.
Imagine for a moment that your commander orders you to take on a highly
undesirable task. Imagine the differences in your willingness to take on
this task based on your loyalty to the people you serve. Trusting one
another and, in turn, developing real relationships will inevitably lead
to teams that will overlook individual motives in place of team
Simply put, interaction fuels action. The most important leadership
behavior to remember: you must uphold and foster trust between you and
your team members. Failing to do so will result in breaking that trust
and the team.
Vision is important
Without vision, your people will lack direction, focus and purpose.
Vision takes one's eyes off of individual concerns and focuses the team,
giving them confidence. This fosters teamwork on a number of levels.
While seemingly attainable, a true vision lies just beyond achievable.
When the team accomplishes things it didn't at first believe possible
during its journey to achieve the vision, everyone's confidence is
boosted and team development is furthered.
It also puts the team on the same page and focuses efforts. This in turn
demonstrates that everyone desires the same thing, creating buy in.