What Sets High-Performing Teams Apart From the Competition


This article is an installment of the Everyday Warrior series, featuring advice, key interviews, and tips to live a life of impact, growth, and continual learning.

As a Senior Leader in the US Army Special Forces, I always tried to identify what set some teams apart from their peers. All had the same assets, tools, training, and personnel. Minor differences were based on mission sets or specialties—Military Free Fall or Combat Divers—but they didn’t factor in to what made a “good team.” It was easy to assume talent was a differential. Still, newly graduated Green Berets were all held to the same standards for training, and I was responsible for initial assignments and was careful not to “stack” teams. I was cautious to ensure every team had senior members with similar experiences and tenure. So, if it wasn’t talent, experience, equipment, or training, what intangible element did some teams have that others did not?

The answer was always accountability. Our best teams prioritized accountability and adherence to standards stronger than their peers, which made all the difference.

What is accountability? Webster’s defines it as “A willingness or obligation to accept responsibility for one’s actions.”

In our weakest teams, there was very little accountability to anyone. This was a leadership issue, and we dealt with it quickly. The average team tended to be those that wanted to keep the boss happy. They did just enough to maintain certification and stay off the radar. They were reliable but never the first pick. Teams that stood out were ones that were held accountable by every member of the detachment. Team leadership set the expectations, provided the training and assets necessary to succeed, and never wavered on standards. Team members knew what was expected of them but, more importantly, what was expected of everyone on the team. With more training and experience, senior members were responsible for developing their junior teammates; junior teammates were accountable for overcoming any identified areas of weakness. If a junior member came for help, it was expected they would get it. If senior teammates identified a training deficiency, the entire efforts of the individual were expected. Peers held each other accountable, as did the whole team.

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