#2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy.

Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surf zone and paddle several miles down the coast.

In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in.

Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.

You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help— and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

Naval Admiral William H. McRaven,University of Texas, 2014 Commencement Address

A few weeks ago we looked at Lesson #1, If You Want to Change the World Start Off By Making Your Bed. We talked about how focusing on a few small things can help accomplish big tasks. In his second lesson, McRaven tells us about the importance of the team.

One Guide, Many Oars

SEAL Boat CrewIn McRaven’s speech he explains that there are three rowers on each side and the coxswain helping guide. Equate this to your work life. You’re surrounded by people who have different talents. You need some who can row left and some who can row right. You want to balance out the people who have the ability to do more work with those who move slower but produce quality.

Let’s say that McRaven did what we all usually do, he picked the strongest rowers. If McRaven’s boat only had men who could row left his boat would go in circles. Inexplicably, the strongest men in the SEAL class when paired incorrectly would move….nowhere. So pick your team not just for strength, but for ability.

There were seven on the boat. That seventh person was the coxswain. No matter how talented the team, they all needed to coxswain to keep them going in the right direction. The team was focused on rowing.

They weren’t focused on how big the waves were, and they weren’t focused on what each of the other rowers was doing. The coxswain provided the cadence, the direction, and told them when they had reached the goal. So if you’re going to put together a star team, make sure you pick a winning coxswain. At Golden Source Consultants, we call them Project Managers.

Paddling Difficult Water

The SEALs are asked to paddle in some pretty difficult water. McRaven tells us the swells are 6 to 10 feet high. Seven men, one small dingy, six oars, and an ocean full of high waves.
SEAL Wave Swells
Our projects are often like that. We assemble our team, we board our raft, and set out on our journey to reach the other shore. And the entire journey we are beaten and battered by the waves of the project ocean. We can easily lose our way, or land in the wrong spot.

McRaven gives us some advice on how to stay on track. The team must be “synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain”. If you’re a Project Manager, that means you first need to establish your project cadence.

  • What major milestones will the team need to complete to stay on track?
  • What is the final destination and what course are you setting to accomplish that?
  • When are status reports due, how do you collect risks, issues, and action items?
  • What meetings will be held and how frequently?
  • How will status be tracked?

Once your team is in a cadence, they are able to perform each task in unison, moving forward towards the same goal. People who get out of sync are course corrected quickly by the Project Manager, and everyone moves forward. Establish your flow as soon as the Project Charter is signed, and you’ll find your team navigating difficult waters with ease.

Getting Some Help

“You can’t change the world alone…” McRaven says. This next recommendation is not just for Project Managers, but for everyone. Know when to get help.

SEAL Carrying the BoatOften times top performers will do the work all by themselves. Owning a task is wonderful, and being efficient is a must. But how often do we keep a task to ourselves and prevent others from learning, growing, and more importantly helping us reach the goal.

Experts can feel like the strong man on the boat, rowing hard to push the team along. The best teams have rowers who help the team so everyone grows strong and no one person bares the load. Think about your expertise, and think how much stronger someone else on your team would be if you were able to share that with them.

Don’t go it alone. Row with your team.

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