Teamwork, where 1+1+1+1+1 can = 49

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Swyt
  • 82 ATRS DET 1 Commander
Teamwork is essential to effective military installations and their surrounding communities; however, as the Department of Defense continues to reduce its personnel, the large, highly structured teams of the past will often need to adapt to become smaller, more flexible groups of loosely arranged, yet synchronized individuals working together effectively to accomplish the mission. One way to measure the effectiveness of teamwork is to evaluate if the output of a team is greater than the sum of the individual parts. That's a good catch-phrase or vision, but how do we do something useful with it and where do we start? Like most things, "it depends," some useful tenets to focus on when fostering effective and productive teamwork are decentralized execution, innovation and excellence.

The military's hierarchical structure can often slow or even inhibit teamwork. If individuals are consistently awaiting commander or higher headquarters decisions, productiveness can be suppressed. Instead of controlling everything, team leaders and military commanders should focus on empowering individuals. The individuals that make up the team should have the freedom and authority to act within their sphere of influence and responsibility, and hence execute at a decentralized level. Leaders, instead of focusing on every detail, should emphasize the big picture and hold individuals accountable for their roles and responsibilities to the team and organization. Team leaders should clearly communicate goals, intentions, and purpose through a variety of verbal and written means since continuous, clear, concise communications are critical to keeping teams synchronized towards common goals. Additionally, to help cultivate individual team members' skills, leaders should create an environment and culture that facilitates innovation and allows for errors.

Innovation is a key element of progress. Without it, organizations can stagnate and eventually lose their utility. Team leaders should stimulate open and honest communications where new ideas can be cultivated. Similar to mission debriefs in the Air Force aviation community where egos and rank are checked at the door, team leaders must encourage open discussions of new ideas from all team members. Encouraging the innovation that often comes from young airmen who have new approaches and perspectives that are un-biased by the commonality of years of military experience is essential to forward progress. While innovation and new approaches often lead to mistakes, learning from these failures leads to increased success. Well-intentioned failures should not be stifled nor punished, yet instead encouraged and utilized as stepping stones to higher levels of success. Military teams cannot afford to isolate or discourage anybody since there are no "extra" people on the team. Each individual is essential and the organization relies on the excellence each team member provides.

Excellence in all we do is an inherent value of the Air Force. Another way to look at excellence is, if the job is worth doing, then it is worth doing right the first time. In the military, there is often so much to get done, the team can't afford people who don't do their part and pull their weight. Being an effective team member means developing expertise and becoming a critical asset. It means understanding your role within the team, knowing your job, and doing it to the best of your abilities. Team leaders must hold individuals accountable so as to foster the trust needed to create a cohesive team. With the frequent changes inherent with military personnel moves, military teams usually lack the luxury of long-term cohesion provided by stable teams built up over years. Instead, military teams often become pick-up games where a group is thrown together quickly, or even temporarily, and the team must produce results while still building inter-team relationships. In these situations, spending "off-duty" time together outside traditional workplace settings can help bring the various personalities together quicker.

Understanding each other is essential for effective teamwork, and building effective inter-personal relationships allows team members to better integrate and communicate.

Team Holloman exemplifies what is takes to produce effective teams and mission success. With the variety of people, units, missions, services, and community partners, local organization and team leaders face continuous challenges in keeping everyone working towards common goals. As we continue to move Holloman and the surrounding communities forward, focusing on a culture that allows for decentralized execution, innovation, and excellence will help facilitate effective teamwork and allow 1+1+1+1+1 to = 49, or 54, or even 82.