Thursday 27 October 2011

Even superheroes need teammates

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

There can be few decisions more important than choosing the members of your team. Whatever you do, the people around you shape your world and can greatly increase - or reduce - your ability to achieve.

One night in Exeter, I was out with some friends. I was running short of cash, so I left one pub early and went to find a cash machine on the route to the pub we were planning to visit next. It was a dank night and as I waited for the ATM to authorise my request, I noticed a trio of shady looking characters who were moving closer making threatening noises. Something about me was upsetting them, and they clearly meant trouble.

It might have been that they wanted to take my money or card, but I didn't think so. It sounded as though they had a problem with the way I was dressed, and they were clearly drawing other conclusions about me from my outfit.

As I stood there wondering whether my card and cash would be released before they arrived, I understood why. I was standing in a pair of running shoes, tight lycra tracksuit bottoms with swimming trunks over the top, and above my tight T-shirt I wore a cape made of red crepe material. My face was covered with a red crepe superhero mask. This is not normal - or at least not in Exeter.

I had a few moments to consider my options - fight, flight, negotiate. I didn't want to abandon my card and cash - flight would be quite costly. On the other hand,  I didn't fancy my chances as a negotiator since I probably wouldn't get the chance to explain that my friends and I had found several meters of crepe and agreed that a superheroes "run ashore" (Royal Marines expression meaning "night out") would be a good idea. So that left fighting.

As the three menacing shapes moved closer I carried out a quick "combat estimate" - the formal process by which a military commander is supposed to weigh the relative strengths of his own forces and those of his opponent. I was outnumbered 3 to 1. I was wearing rather unsuitable clothes. My cape in particular could cause a lot of trouble tangled around my neck. Worst of all, if I was involved in a fight with civilians I would almost certainly lose my job.

I stayed by the cash machine, hoping it would yield my card and cash, but it steadfastly refused to do so. The trio moved ever closer. By now I could see their hate-filled faces and hear their abuse more clearly. They had clearly decided that I deserved some kind of corrective treatment.

As I watched their approaching faces, I noticed a sudden change. Hate turned to surprise, and then quickly to fear. They stopped in their tracks, hesitated and looked at each other, then turned and ran away.

Slightly surprised, I looked behind me. Approaching, illuminated by a street lamp and silhouetted against the shiny damp street beneath their feet, a band of about 20 superheroes were approaching. Their capes billowed as they strode towards me, shimmering slightly as lycra stretched over muscle. My friends had decided it was time to move on to the next pub.

For me the main reason to join the Royal Marines was the quality of the people I met who were already enlisted. I knew that whatever the circumstances they were a good team to be a part of. In dangerous situations, I could expect my colleagues to be courageous, determined, unselfish and cheerful, and in less dangerous environments I knew they would be good fun and not too serious.

If you lead a team then giving them a sense that they belong to a great group has got to be a top priority - here are some thoughts on boosting team performance without increasing costs. If you're in a team and you don't feel that it's a great team, it's time to make a change. Either find a way to make the team better - or if you cannot do that then leave.

We tend to become more like the people we spend time with, so it makes sense to surround yourself with people you can rely on and admire. You may not always fit in with the locals though.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training.  Here is the full list.

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