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3 teamwork lessons for advisors from a navy SEAL boot camp

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Navy SEALS are the ultimate team.

Through precision teamwork, they accomplish almost impossible feats, like safely hunting down Osama bin Laden at night in a foreign country. While each SEAL is a formidable fighting machine, it’s the team that does amazing things.  

Working in the insurance industry isn’t hazardous to life and limb, but it’s also a team endeavor. Success requires well-honed teams of underwriters, actuaries, agents, marketers, IT experts and others.   

No one succeeds without good teammates. This is something we’re taught during team-building activities and something I was reminded of recently. 

After attending a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference in San Diego, 32 of us attended a Navy SEAL boot camp on Coronado Island. This “light” boot camp was a great experience, giving us a small insight into what our servicemen and women go through during initiation —and the importance of teamwork in the military and business. 

We were paired into two teams of 16. Teams were then broken up into four boat crews of people of similar heights.  

There was the usual physical training (PT), during which we were told we were too hot (cool off and get into ocean) and then too clean (roll in the sand), and then too dirty (get back into the ocean). There were team obstacle races, memory games, log drills, runs, cold ocean work and more—all starting at 5:30 a.m.  

So why wasn’t I in my comfortable hotel bed at that early hour? Because it was fun; and once I started, I didn’t want to let my team or myself down. 

Finishing the boot camp was something I couldn’t have done on my own, but having teammates didn’t give me an automatic pass. I still had to learn to work with those teammates in the same way mountain climbers must work with theirs and you must work with yours.  

Here are three lessons I learned while at the boot camp. 

(1) Help, encourage and trust your teammates 

It was a lot easier to reach a consensus and align our goals with our four-person boat crew first. While racing and carrying a log overhead, the first thing we did was to try and assess how we could best help each other carry the weight.  

We knew we needed to step in time so we would not trip on each other. Walter, an ex-Marine, would call out the steps from the rear. During the race, another teammate’s shoulder became very sore due to a recent operation. I moved forward to take his weight. We stayed positive, encouraged each other, and we ended up beating the young guys. 

(2) Communicate and establish a shared vision 

It was a little hard at first to communicate, as none of us knew each other, but we knew that the sooner we could communicate the sooner we’d have an advantage. Together we decided what the core mission was and everyone’s role, so the team could succeed.

This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of goals when faced with challenges or obstacles. Whether your objective is supporting your team by linking arms and sitting in the ocean while being pounded by waves —or implementing software or obtaining market share — a shared vision will keep the team focused and on track. 

(3) Be flexible,keep it fun and stay warm 

You might have a plan, but be ready to make adjustments at any time.Just when we thought we understood a drill, our instructors would make it a little more interesting.  

Todd, the teammate with the sore shoulder, got our boat crew singing during our runs. I encouraged our crew to hug to stay warm when many began to shiver from the cold-water drills. Together as a team we finished the boot camp.  

There were some who gave up or got hurt. They grabbed a doughnut and a coffee and left. But we hung in there, breaking the boot camp activities down into one task at a time—and we got through each of those “one tasks” together. 

All of us will inevitably have our own mountains to climb and oceans to cross. Yet regardless of the landscape, we will require the help of others to reach our destination. Through the power of positive teamwork we can harness skills beyond our own and achieve success we might not otherwise see.   


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