The US Navy SEALs, the Special Forces unit of the US Navy shot into prominence in the news with several high profile operations, the most recent of them being the killing of Osama Bin Laden in a daring cross border raid into Pakistan. The success of the mission came as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with this elite military unit, arguably the best in the world in what they do.
- Selection and Training –
The selection process for the Navy SEALs is arguably one of the toughest “entry barriers” in the world with more than a 90% dropout before the course is completed. Egos are burst, physiques and more importantly mental strength toughened – the elite few who make it past that rigorous process go on to become US Navy SEALS.
Source: navysealsYet, they maintain the rigorous training year after year after year… It is said that when the SEALs are not fighting, they are training! Plausible scenarios are rehearsed, plans chalked out, dummy runs done, debriefed and rehearsed again! All this training comes into play in their handling of a battle field situation. In a real life incident made famous by the Tom Hanks movie Captain Philips, the captain of the ship Maersk Alabama was held hostage by Somalian pirates in 2009. Since the captain was held closely by three pirates in a moving boat, there was no way to rescue him unless all three threats were neutralized at exactly the same instant. If not, there was a high probability that the hostage would be executed. The three pirates were shot at exactly the same instant with head shots by SEAL snipers from a ship which was following the pirates’ boat!
- Teamwork –
SEALS do not operate alone. They operate in small member teams (smallest being a 4-5 member unit) that literally live and die for each other. It is said that SEALS have never left a man behind in war however bad the situation might be. The unofficial SEAL creed has a paragraph which brings out their belief in team work and determination clearly– “I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates
and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”
Source: navysealsThere are many documented instances of SEAL teams being badly outnumbered and fighting their way out to safety through their sheer will power and team work. SEAL team members are able to empathize with their team mates also in part due to their cross functional training – in a battle field anyone might lose their life, so invariably they need to be prepared to step into other people’s roles, like that of a medic, at a moment’s notice. This brings a much deeper understanding and respect for each other’s roles and skillsets.
- Adaptability –
The SEALs get their name from being able to operate from Sea, Air and Land (even Arctic conditions – SEAL Team 10 specializes in that!). So they are literally never out of the fight
Source: navysealsCombined with their relentless training regime, their flexibility in a battlefield makes them a fearsome fighting force. In various operations, SEAL teams have been compromised due to inaccurate intelligence briefs, wrong locations and other instances of Murphy’s Law stacking the deck against them, but their adaptability to the changing battlefront scenario made them come out on top more often than not. Their ability to take decisions with incomplete data presented to them perhaps holds a lesson for modern day business leaders too.
- Planning for an Unequal playing field –
SEAL teams excel in planning every last detail in a mission so that the opposition just doesn’t get a level playing field! In a typical ambush situation, they always target the enemy’s communication person and team leader first. They realize the importance of good communication and leadership in a battle situation and hence their first instinct is to deny that to the enemy! The detailing out of every mission make them past masters at creating tactical advantages out of notoriously difficult battle field situations. During the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, they realized the need to hone their understanding of the foreign territory and urban warfare – a lot of thought and effort has been put into recreating such an environment at SEAL training facilities. Below is a pic of such a facility in an island off California.
Source: navysealsPut a SEAL team against any enemy force and the chances are that they would outthink and out plan the enemy almost every single time!
Are there stories of other great teams which have inspired you? Join the conversation….
Check out our other parts of “Stories of Great Teams”:
Stories of Great Teams: Part 1: “Skunk Works”!
Stories of Great Teams: Part 2: “Muckers”
Stories of Great Teams – Part 3: The US Navy Blue Angels
Stories of great teams: Part 4: Pixar