When I left the Royal Marines, I led some expeditions for a company called World Challenge, taking groups of teenagers from the UK to foreign lands for a month’s challenge adventure.
The groups were mixed gender of varying backgrounds with many different reasons for being there, ranging from ‘I want an adventure’ to ‘It’ll look good on my CV’ to ‘Well, my friend was going so why not?’ Though they all worked on their fitness in the preceding months, it's fair to say there was quite a wide range in their physical abilities which made for an interesting expedition!
In the beginning, the team would always be disjointed and scattered in their energy. Some of the young people were over zealous and somewhat haphazard while others held back, a bit reluctant to fully embrace the adventure.
The first week or so was always a challenge as the young people acclimatised and got their heads around being so far from home and comfort. Emotions would be like roller coaster rides and tempers would fray. It was hard work for the leader.
Then, about halfway through, there would be a turning point, triggered by something that they found difficult to cope with such as sickness, injury or setback. For example, on one trip to Madagascar, a girl stumbled and fell down a cliff, getting stuck on a ledge where she had to cling until the rest of the team figured out how to rescue her.
After such an incident, the team would always work so much better together. Overcoming adversity together would serve as a kind of gelling agent which allowed the team to find a new kind of power: the power of working together to get results greater than each individual could achieve alone.
As the relationships in the team strengthened over the course of the trip, the sense of belonging and purpose grew among them. The leaders encouraged the young people to support each other, share the load and hold each other accountable for the success of the venture. They would remind them to keep focusing on the goals and help them to find solutions and resources within themselves.
The teenagers were able to draw so much energy from the group once it was cohesive and supportive, indeed some of them may not have been able to complete the challenge without the collaboration in the group to sustain them. It was a fantastic crash course in growth, learning and accomplishment.
In business too, the power of teamwork can achieve what may seem unattainable. Leaders who pay attention to their most important asset in any endeavour – their people – can create the right conditions for growth and performance to flourish and enjoy the success of leading a team that has become more than the sum of its parts.
Sean The EQ Commando spent 10 years in the Royal Marines and is now director of EQ2Lead. He helps leaders and managers frustrated with the lack of engagement from their employees to master the skill of positively influencing and engaging people to grow them into enthusiastic, committed teams.