When I left active duty and started the Coronado Brewing Company, besides leaving an amazing group of teammates who had my back, I lost an environment where real conversations about performance were expected.
Suddenly I was having important business conversations with the expectation that I was being told the truth, when in fact real truth – the kind you can bank on – was rarely present. It took me a while to realize I was in a new world that was as murky as a battlefield but without the bullets and bombs.
I pined for the days when I could speak my mind without the fear of hurting someone’s feelings, and could get straight talk from those I needed to trust. Though the business was ultimately successful, that success was in spite of the partnership – which soon failed due to lack of authentic communications.
In the SEAL teams the stakes were so high that we had to get real, real quick. One of the processes we used was called “the debrief.” This was an informal huddle after an event where we would make an honest assessment of what went right and wrong at both an individual and team level. The process was simple, focused, non-personal and very helpful to guide learning and change behaviors that were not leading to “elite team-ness.”
We debriefed everything – and I mean everything. Every training evolution, training op and every real world op was debriefed. I believe this process is a key to developing momentum with a team or organization.
When real, authentic communications are present, then trust accelerates. As trust goes up, the speed of transacting business increases due to a vastly increased sense of accountability and follow-through. The slow due diligence process between partners and vendors evaporates when trust is high. Same is true for internal teams who rely on each other for mission accomplishment. As trust and speed go up, costs come down. Thus, getting real with communications leads to greater profit, speedier execution, real momentum and more fun!
Here are some ground rules for getting real:
– Don’t be personal. This is all about performance – how can we learn if we don’t give and receive feedback without taking it personally? Teams need to develop a thick skin and be able to provide very specific and detailed information with the expectation that the receiving member will act on it in a positive manner for the benefit of both her and the team. End of discussion, next issue. Also, it shouldn’t need to be said that nothing leaves the debrief session. Say or hear your part, and then move on and let it go.
– Say it only if it needs to be said. Occasionally I was in a debrief where I knew I screwed up and knew that everyone else knew it too. In those moments, I endeavored to speak first, say my part and promise to do better next time. However, occasionally some jerk took the opportunity to dig his personal knife into me again just to put me down or elevate himself. Not only was this counter-productive, but he diminished trust and his own reputation in the process. Feedback should be given solely with the intent to see the receiver improve and become a better teammate. Otherwise it is best to keep your mouth shut.
– Be careful not to embarrass (too much). Guess what, next time it may be you in the hot seat. I took my licks in good humor when I messed up, and appreciated the accountability and humorous way that it was handled by my team. I knew they really cared about me, and it was not taken as abusive at all. However, in cases where the issue is very sensitive or the individual is overly sensitive, then consider doing the debrief in private. I believe that for small lapses of judgment – things that can be handled in a fun way – an appropriate amount of public embarrassment is an effective tool. However, be cautious as you may lose the trust of the teammate and he may lose enthusiasm for the team if he is called out in a very embarrassing manner.
– Don’t beat around the bush. Get right to the point. Authentic teammates don’t need to be praised before they get hit with the issue. It is best to just say it precisely and move on. Don’t provide wishy-washy, confusing or deceptive feedback either. Top performers know when they kick ass and are also keenly aware of when they drop the ball. What they need to hear is not “dude, you dropped the ball” but “next time, do it this way.” If the teammate is younger and / or new to the team, it is ok to let them know they are on the right track. But don’t abuse the “atta-boys” – treat each one as precious because if you dole them out too easily they lose their value and impact.
– Make it a two-way street. Nobody likes being lectured to and the learning rarely occurs that way. Make it a two-way dialogue by asking questions instead of telling. “Joe, what did you notice about the way your rigging worked?” is more effective than “Joe, you idiot, you screwed up the rigging and nearly got us all killed!”
If you can master this simple but difficult process you will accelerate toward becoming a top performing team and gain serious momentum. Further, you will avoid the disaster I had to endure with my brewing company…however, sometimes we need to learn the hard way!
Train hard, be authentic, and get momentum!
— Coach Mark Divine
P.S. Listen here to my recent interview with Will Brink…it’s all about Navy SEALs: Exercise training, eating, and supplements.
P.P.S. We’ve upped or game for 2014 Camps and Academies. Click here to view the updated events schedule.