By: Christopher Boyne
Team leadership is an important leadership approach in that it is one of the fastest growing and widely studied areas of leadership within organizational work teams (Northouse, 2013, p. 287). This approach “…looks at how different group characteristics can affect relationships both with the leader and among followers” (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 3). There is a significant distinction between a team and a group, and each operates much differently in order to achieve organizational goals. A group includes two or more people interacting and influencing each other, and groups can vary in size (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 3). In contrast, a team is much more interdependent compared to a group. Individuals have to rely on others within their team, and everyone is mutually accountable. A team cannot operate efficiently without the members interacting with each other (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 3).
An example of a group is a collection of congenial golfers on the PGA tour. A professional golfer can achieve their goal, regardless of what other golfers do during the tournament (Dufour, 2009). An example of a team on the other hand is the United States Navy Special Forces known as Navy SEALs. A team has a clear goal and team members must rely on other people to accomplish their goals. An individual can excel at what they do, but that does not mean that the individual is part of a good team (Dufour, 2009). The word “team” is always associated with Navy SEALs, and SEALs are never thought of as being a group. Though a group and a team are extremely similar and often used interchangeably, there is a set of unique distinctions that make a collection of Navy SEALs a successful model of a team.
There are eight Navy Seal Teams and each has eight operational 16-man SEAL platoons. These platoons can be structured into eight-man, four-man, or even two-man teams depending on the task (“Navy seals structure,”). No matter the size of the SEAL Team, they all have the same components. Each team has a clear and elevating goal, where the performance objective is understood by every team member (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 7). Depending on the size of a SEAL Team, the goals vary, but each has its own results-driven structure, which is designed to accomplish certain goals (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 7). Retired Navy Commander Matthew Boyne is a formal Naval aviator who worked closely with SEAL Teams while he served in the military. He is currently a PhD professor in Organizational Leadership at the Air Force Air Staff and Command College. Boyne states that “Every SEAL Team has a clear goal, and each team is structured to accomplish goals” (Boyne, 2014).
Each SEAL team also has competent team members with each individual having a special skill, so they can all interdependently work together. A four-man team for instance will often consist of a team leader, a medic/sniper, a communications specialist, and a sonar technician (Luttrell, 2007). With specialization of skills, a SEAL Team can be prepared for a multitude of obstacles (Boyne, 2014). Trust is also an important aspect of a successful team. This includes having a collaborative climate (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 7). Marcus Luttrell writes about a collaborative climate and trusting his fellow SEALs in his book Lone Survivor (2007), which details how his four-man SEAL Team got into a firefight with over 100 Taliban fighters, and all three of his team members died heroically. He states that he thinks of his fellow SEALs as brothers, and the bonds that they form working together in SEAL training and in combat missions makes their relationship exclusive (Luttrell, 2007).
A good team also holds all of its members to a high standard of excellence. The dropout rate of Navy SEAL candidates is extremely high, often over 80%, and SEAL training is considered one of the most difficult Special Forces training programs in the world (Luttrell, 2007). Even after SEAL Basic Underwater Demolition training is completed, candidates must go through months and often years of weapons training and skill specialization training (Luttrell, 2007). In addition to high standards of excellence, every SEAL Team also has a high level of external support and recognition. “Team members need money, equipment, or supplies to accomplish their goals” (PSU WC Lesson 9, 2014, p. 7). Navy SEALs get their resources from the United States military forces, and through United States Special Operations Command (Luttrell, 2007). A successful team should also have principled leadership, where the team leaders serve as coaches. Most SEAL Teams have junior officers as their leaders, who are required to go through all the same training as the enlisted SEALs, and also pass Officer Candidate School, where Navy officer candidates prepare to become military leaders (Boyne, 2014).
Every aspect of a Navy SEAL Team exemplifies what makes a successful team, and precisely distinguishes the difference between a team and a group. These two nouns are often used interchangeably, but as shown through the Navy SEALs, a team is a much more specific type of group. Through analysis of the Navy SEAL Teams using team leadership approaches, the characteristics of a successful team are evident.
Dufour, R. (2009). Solution tree: Rick dufour on groups vs. teams [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hV65KIItlE
Luttrell, M. (2007). Lone survivor: The eyewitness account of operation redwing and the lost heroes of seal team 10. Little, Brown and Company.
M. Boyne, personal communication, April 20, 2014
Navy seals structure. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://navyseals.com/nsw/structure/
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications