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9 lessons from the Navy SEALs to improve teamwork skills in the workplace
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9 lessons from the Navy SEALs to improve teamwork skills in the workplace

Improve workplace morale, communication skills, and teamwork skills with lessons from Navy SEALs.

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Meet Juan, a Lead Business Analyst at a Consulting Firm. Juan’s responsibilities include supporting his team, making client-facing decisions, and overseeing project progress. As his obligations grow, he has less time to set objectives and make approvals, and has become a bottleneck causing client dissatisfaction.

In leadership-driven cultures, operations often get disrupted because leaders are too busy to support their teams as much as they’d like. If you don’t promote important teamwork skills, like accountability and decision-making, you’ll never be able to step back and let your team work autonomously.

The United States Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) teams demonstrate really strong examples of teamwork skills. In the SEALs, they learn how to support each other as partners with equally valuable ideas from early training onward. 

SEALs understand that a team’s success depends on finding a balance between supporting each other and taking ownership of their tasks. 

Learning SEALs' values can help you embed a strong teamwork culture in your workplace. So, in this article you’ll discover the benefits of promoting teamwork skills—and gain insights from Navy SEALs' strategies that you can implement in your business. 

Improve your teamwork skills by promoting collaborative work.
Use Switchboard, a visual collaboration platform, to connect with other team members and discuss how to reach bigger goals.
Learn more

Why teamwork is important in the workplace 

Imagine Juan needs to finish and share a project progress report with his manager by the end of the day. He could gather the information from internal software, but he’s not used to the tool and wouldn’t finish on time. 

Juan knows that Carly and Giuliana regularly create a bi-weekly progress report so they might have the data at hand and could help him. Juan creates a Google Sheets file and adds it to his Switchboard room. He shares the link with his team and asks them to fill out the sections per his instructions. 

At its core, teamwork means working in groups to complete tasks more efficiently. Juan knows his limitations, so he relies on his team to collaborate on the tasks he can’t do alone. 

A culture that embraces and builds teamwork in the workplace can lead to:

  • Enhanced morale. People are happier at work when they feel supported by and connected to their team. This can lead to a safe team environment and better employee retention rates.
  • Improved productivity. Teamwork improves productivity because people who work together and communicate smoothly tend to avoid information silos and can solve problems more quickly in groups.
  • Better work quality. Whenever teams work together, there’s a knowledge transfer. This means they learn best practices and shortcuts, increasing the quality of outcomes.
  • Amplified creativity and innovation. Sharing ideas with others and seeing things from a different perspective helps teams come up with more novel and inventive solutions.
  • More accountability. When team members hold each other responsible for their work, it makes departments more efficient and reliable because they understand the impact of their actions. 
  • Better decision-making. Teams with good interpersonal skills can openly discuss problems and ideas with respect and a low-ego mindset. This helps you tap into your team’s diverse perspectives and reach less biased decisions. 
  • Improved problem-solving skills. Team members can work in tandem with others to look at problems from different views and find the best possible solution. 
  • Reduced workplace stress. Being part of a team means you can share workloads, listen to each other, and offer advice—which results in a more positive work environment.
  • Strengthened relationships. You don’t need to be your coworker’s best friend to have a strong relationship of mutual support. Teamwork gives everyone the opportunity to seek and help others in a trusted environment.
Two people editing a spreadsheet on Switchboard
Use Switchboard to edit browser-based spreadsheets live or asynchronously with others from your team. Source: Switchboard

8 most impactful teamwork skills learned from Navy SEALs

Navy SEALs are the most elite military force in the US and are trained to be ready for any form of unconventional warfare. This organization has strong teamwork skills because, in its case, sticking and working together is often a matter of life or death. 

While your employees’ lives hopefully aren’t at risk, strengthening their teamwork skills is still important. It can help your business drive better results and become more profitable. Here are 9 skills you can learn from good teams like the Navy SEALs. 

1. Effective communication

Navy SEALs, known as sailors, need to have exceptional communication skills as they often use body language and codes to operate at a distance or underwater. Understanding each other clearly means they know exactly what they need to do to reach a common goal. 

While you may never be working on anything as high stakes as an underwater demolition mission, when communication fails, it can cause backlogs, misunderstandings, and inefficiencies that have serious consequences for the company.

To communicate more effectively, set codes that everyone can understand. This means having access to different communication channels like Slack, setting internal communication guidelines, and ensuring everyone knows what acronyms mean.

Having strong communication skills and promoting active listening is what drives teams forward and leads to successful missions.

2. Conflict management 

Training your team to manage different perspectives during conflict will strengthen teamwork and keep your projects on track—even during a crisis. A central piece of this training should be around decision making. Each individual knows how to define the context, assess risk, and identify the available resources to make the right call and properly handle conflict.

To help with conflict management, sailors learn how to deal with stress, set goals, do positive self-talk, and use deep breathing techniques. This allows them to stay grounded and calm during life-threatening situations.

3. Clear goal setting

Sometimes, long-term organizational objectives can be hard to focus on. It’s a bit like when sailors need to aim at a far away target: their vision blurs and they can’t see what they're shooting at. 

Jocko Willink, Former Navy SEAL and co-author of "Extreme Ownership," explains that to take a proper shot, sailors should focus on the front side of the weapon instead of looking down the sight-eyes to get a better view. Likewise, if you break long-term objectives down into smaller, more immediate, achievable goals, this helps your team focus on what they need to do.

For SEALs to be autonomous and effective, they also need to know how their shot affects the mission. Similarly, individuals on your team will benefit from having their actions tied to bigger common goals to help them understand what’s expected of them and why.

4. Problem-solving 

Remember, SEALs are trained to act with clarity in life-or-death situations often involving unexpected problem resolution. They manage to come up with successful solutions by: 

  • Deeply understanding the situation at hand, including potential obstacles and available resources
  • Having clear team goals on what’s expected of them and the mission
  • Being adaptable to the ever changing environment
  • Having transparent communication and sharing ideas and constructive feedback 
  • Engaging in critical thinking, assessing risk, and planning for contingencies
  • Using the available resources, including technology and each individual's expertise
  • Learning how to act under pressure
  • Reflecting on previous actions and identifying what went well and what didn’t

You don’t need to put your employees through highly stressful situations to learn how to solve problems like SEALs. But, you can give everyone the ability to share their thoughts and ideas during problem resolution sessions. 

Additionally, you can develop a learning environment where everyone can solve problems in groups by listening to each other and assessing risk together.

Pro tip: Prep for problem-solving sessions on Switchboard. In this visual collaboration platform, you can create a visual whiteboard and invite people to add their thoughts to it asynchronously. After that, you can host a live session to discuss everyone's ideas.
Two people working on a virtual whiteboard in Switchboard
Switchboard’s in-app whiteboard allows you to brainstorm potential solutions to problems with your teammates. Source: Switchboard

5. Taking ownership

In combat, ownership is critical because turning to see what your team is doing can distract you and potentially harm you or the group. You have to own your task and trust that your teammates are doing the same and if a group leader gets hurt, the mission mustn't be compromised. So, sailors all need to know how to take responsibility, make decisions, and lead others.

In your business, your team should have this soft skill, it means owning up, both, wins and mistakes. Acting as an owner and having self-awareness lets you understand the implications of your decisions and feel empowered to make them. 

It also allows you to build expertise, feel more confident in your actions, and give back to your team. If you’re doing your job and being accountable for it, they’re likely doing the same. 

6. Not being afraid to ask for help (and be willing to help others)

As strong and powerful as you may be, you can’t do it all by yourself. In the Navy, “You realize very quickly that you’re not going to get anywhere unless you function as a team,” says Admiral William McRaven, former SEAL and author of "Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life... And Maybe The World.”

Each member of a team should know when to collaborate in larger groups to complete a task or solve a problem. Asking for help is one part of the equation, being willing to do it is the other half. SEALs are trained to be excited about helping others and the mission. Going out of your way to help others makes the team stronger. 

For example, offering to help a colleague with their tasks so they can leave early to attend their daughter’s birthday, will likely bring you two closer together. Having a team who hypes you up helps you perform better because you don’t want to let them down, but also, it tells you that you’re not alone and if you win, you do it together. 

7. Resilience

Navy SEAL training is extremely hard. Most will not pass it, but the ones that do need to be resilient and learn how to deal with frustration. In combat, being resilient means showing up and keep fighting even when they’re tired. In your company, it can mean multiple things: 

  • Working harder to solve tough challenges
  • Protecting yourself from burnout and delegating tasks
  • Continuing to show up and helping others 
  • Trusting that others will help you

8. Everyone is a leader

“We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations,” says the Navy SEAL Ethos. At SEALs everyone is trained to take the rails and lead a team if necessary.  

Leif Babin, former Navy SEAL and co-author of Extreme Ownership, believes there aren’t bad teams, just bad team leaders. He makes his point by sharing a story of a practice boat race. 

There were seven rubber boats, each with a boat leader. One team was winning every race while another one was losing every time. Leif decided to swap the leaders in those boats and to his surprise, the losing team won the next round.

When leaders know how to hype their teams up and use each one’s strengths to their advantage, they gain all the benefits of good teamwork. Despite having a hierarchical structure, everyone on your team can be a leader at their roles, know when to keep going, swap things around, or ask for help.

Teamwork comes first: The secret to successful missions

In leadership-centered organizations, teams tend to need management approval to do their jobs, which can cause bottlenecks. By holding people accountable, having clear communication, and supporting each other, businesses can leverage teamwork and become much more efficient. 

To improve team dynamics, look at the Navy SEALs. This elite military force needs to stick together to survive in missions and combat. Likewise, your team needs to work in a group to offer better solutions. 

Through their commitment to communication, conflict management, clear goal-setting, ownership, and resilient perseverance, the SEALs are the blueprint for successful teamwork. 

Promoting effective teamwork in your organization, improves team morale, reduces stress levels, increases the quality of work, and helps individuals build better relationships. But you need the tools to do it. 

Using a visual collaboration tool like Switchboard, means you can invite others to persistent rooms and prep or host sessions where all members of the team get to participate. You can use it as a virtual meeting platform to communicate or impart training, or as a collaborative hub to plan for problem solving meetings, and delegate work.

Improve your teamwork skills by promoting collaborative work.
Use Switchboard, a visual collaboration platform, to connect with other team members and discuss how to reach bigger goals.
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about teamwork skills

What are the skills of teamwork?

Teamwork skills are a combination of interpersonal and collaboration skills, these include: 

  1. Open, clear, and transparent communication
  2. A culture of service where everyone is willing to ask for and help each other
  3. Conflict resolution and crisis management
  4. Effective problem solving
  5. Decision making
  6. Profound trust in each other
  7. Clear goal setting and individual responsibilities
  8. High levels of ownership and accountability

What is the difference between teamwork and collaboration? 

The difference between teamwork and collaboration is that teamwork is much more focused on specific tasks while collaboration can be used for broader idea generation. 

These are similar and the concepts can often be used interchangeably, but in teamwork each participant usually has a clear role, specific responsibilities, and a unique set of tasks. Whereas in collaborative work, the roles and responsibilities are less structured and there’s a group goal rather than specific and individual tasks.

What are some teamwork examples in the workplace?

Examples of teamwork in the workplace include:

  1. Cross-functional project teams. People from different departments working together to complete certain tasks. Each one has clearly defined responsibilities and is working towards a specific goal.
  2. Crisis management teams. Usually employees from diverse functions get together to assess potential problems or come up with a contingency plan to address a crisis.
  3. Merger and acquisition teams. One or more people from each department assess the risk and list actions related to each function facing an acquisition.

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Improve your teamwork skills by promoting collaborative work.

Use Switchboard, a visual collaboration platform, to connect with other team members and discuss how to reach bigger goals.