Team Building — Individual Skills

Big Red Car here on a cold Austin day. Brrrrrrr! It is in the low 30’s but it will be in the 70’s on Thursday. Let’s just get to Thursday, you hot house thin blooded Texans!

So The Boss gets talking about the art of building teams.

Teams are not just groups of folks who work together, they are groups of folks who TRUST one another.

Individual skills

In the course of building teams, not enough attention is paid to individual skills.

If you are going to create a great infantry rifle company, you don’t start with company level tactics or skills. No, you begin with basic individual skills of each rifleman.

Can they take care of their own health and grooming? Health and safety! Can they shoot? Marksmanship! Can they take care of their weapons and gear? Inspection! Can they fire and maneuver? Tactics! Can they fight with their hands? Hand to hand combat! Can they bandage their buddies? Survival!

How important are these individual skills? A soldier who cannot fight because he has trench or immersion foot is as real a casualty as a soldier with a bullet hole. He is not fit for duty. A soldier with a sunburn who cannot work is as real a casualty as the same bullet hole. When an individual soldier fails, the entire squad is challenged. Enough individual failures and the entire company is combat ineffective.

When each soldier masters these individual skills — only then can the training progress to squad skills and then platoon skills and then company skills.

Squads are made of two fire teams of about five men each. Platoons are made up of 3-4 squads. Companies are made up of 3-4 platoons. Battalions are made up of 3-5 companies. Brigades are made up of 3-5 battalions. Divisions are made up of 3-5 brigades and separate units like combat engineers, signal, aviation. Corps are made up of 3-5 divisions and separate units. Armies are made up of 3-5 corps and separate units. Army groups are made up of 3-5 armies and separate units. The “scale” or military units is based on the aggregation of subordinate units, all of which eventually get back to the individual rifleman and how well he masters his personal military skills.

Again, the building blocks of each of these units starts with the individual skills of the riflemen. The entire Army is dependent upon riflemen mastering their individual skills.

In the day, rifle companies were trained to find, fix and kill their enemies. Still are.

They had to be able to find the enemy — usually higher headquarters directed the companies to where the enemy was through their intelligence function.

Then they had to engage with the enemy so they could not wiggle away — keep the enemy from maneuvering so the friendlies could maneuver to close with them

Only then did they close with the enemy, decisively engage them and destroy them — kill them. They did this through fire and maneuver, achieving fire superiority and then closing with the enemy to dispatch them by direct fire, the bayonet or hand to hand combat.

In the combat engineers wherein The Boss served and commanded combat engineer companies, a combat engineer company has to be able to fight like infantry as well as conducting missions unique to the combat engineers. The combat engineer company has to be able to attack a position and defend a position. It must be able to conduct raids as well as ambush and recon patrols. It has to be able to build roads, build airfields, build dams, install/remove minefields, install/destroy fortifications, force river crossings by seizing the far shore in rubber boats and building rafts and floating bridges. All of these are company skills that require the individual combat engineer to master their individual skills such as the safe use and handling of explosives.

Here is a picture of The Boss when he was a wee Lieutenant in the Army and a commander of a 450 man combat engineer company. Way overstrength and therefore he trained the crap out of them. That year they made a perfect grade on their ARTEP (Army Training and Evaluation Program annual test). He was about 24 years old and this was his first company. Usually a company was commanded by a Captain and The Boss was pretty sharp so they gave him this company even though he was only a First Lieutenant.

On the right side of the picture you can see a coiled cobra carved out of stone. This was given to The Boss by his men from a unit he commanded overseas. They used to call him the “Cobra” because of something he did once upon a time before he had any sense.

In business, the same methodology should be followed. The wise CEO trains toward this objective by emphasizing individual skills throughout the company.

Business skill progression

Each individual in the progressive, aligned business has to know the Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Culture of the company. The first challenge to the CEO is to ensure such documentation exists. If it doesn’t then you are starting from a disadvantage.

This is a”happy” kind of statement and not intended to be taken literally. It is an ideal situation wherein the clarity of the above utterances serves to align the efforts of each individual to do their individual part to contribute to organizational success. A small number of people with their force vectors aligned will ultimately exert more total resultant force than a great number of people whose force vectors are at odds with each other and therefore being squandered on neutralizing each other.

Does this mean the folks need to get a tattoo of the Vision? No.

It does mean that the wise and savvy founder ensures — through spaced repetition communication and training — that the basic glue of the company is constantly reiterated sufficiently that the individual is certain as to the Mission of the company and their role in achieving that objective. This is the power of alignment and it starts with individual skills.

If one were to use a sports analogy — say basketball — it would say that if the operation plan of the team requires rapid ball movement to find the “open” man then the skills of passing and dribbling the basketball would be of paramount importance to the success of the team.

The seeds of failure are similarly sown. If the product the company is producing must be sold in a customer facing B2C environment and you do not have people in your employ who can sell — then this failure to attract, train and retain the right individual skills will spell disaster for the company. It is not the product that is important, it is the product and the value proposition you can put in front of the customer that is important.

In your organizations, pay particular attention to the description, training and evaluation of individual skills as a prelude to executing company level operations.

Sometimes this simple point of emphasis makes all the difference in team performance.

A football team cannot win if nobody can throw the ball or nobody can run the ball or nobody can tackle.

In business, an example of a similar skill that is often overlooked is the power to negotiate effectively. This is a basic business skill and yet businesses do not formally train to do this effectively and successfully.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.


4 thoughts on “Team Building — Individual Skills

  1. Fascinating to learn about your background that way. Curious how those army basics changed today with the advent of more technology & fighting guerilla like groups like isis , Taliban. Etc ?

    • .
      Asymmetrical warfare — making war against terrorists, tribes, movements, ideologies and not sovereign nations with governments and boundaries — is still combat. It depends more and more on the ability to convert intelligence to actionable battlefield intelligence.

      Obtain raw intel in the morning and convert it immediately into raids that same night. One of the reasons why Gen Petraeus’ appointment as DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) was so interesting — the largest consumer of intel became the largest supplier of intel over night. Alas, his zipper got stuck and that was all she wrote.

      Warfare has evolved into a very sharp tip of the spear which is often held by a Special Operator rather than a traditional military organization. This is why Special Forces, Rangers, Delta Force, SEALs are so damn important. They have exploded and right so. Now we just have to use them.

      One of the reasons we’ve gotten blindsided by ISIS is because we lost our eyes and ears in the Middle East. We lost our military intel, our tech intel, our humintel, our cooperative intel (allies), our CIA stations, our agent apparatus and our eavesdropping both literal and electronic.

      This is why a SOFR (status of forces agreement) is so critical, it formalizes our intel capabilities.

      This is also why we cannot be estranged from the Israelis — they’ve got the only functioning intel operation that will share raw data with us.


Comments are closed.