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Thoughts On Teamwork

[Note - This blog post was migrated from our previous website. Originally posted April 18, 2017]

We’ve been having a lot of conversations around teamwork recently. Most participants would say they know a great deal about it. However, it’s one of those aspects of events that often gets criticised as being non-existent. On the organizational team, we have a guy named Mike. If I was to pick someone that exemplifies teamwork and leadership, it’s him. He had a bit to say on the subject and it was profound enough to warrant a blog post. He’ll freely admit to you that he’s still in the process of understanding the nuances of the word (we like that he’s humble, too), but we felt it was important to share what he said.

“Teamwork is more than listening to orders. Teamwork is taking at look at yourself and making sure you are fit enough to not just keep up with everyone else, but working out to be the strongest, so you can help others when they are tired.”

It's natural for a team to compensate based on their weakest member, but at the same time, the best team members also dread being the reason for any performance reduction. I'd expand this point to say that team members look after themselves overall. That means being fed, hydrated, and rested, as well as being fit enough to pick up the slack. Teamwork means bringing your best self to the fight. That said, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. While a good team can help you push through the mental barriers you thought you had, you may also find your skills lend themselves to another field that contributes to mission success. Whatever skills you have, apply them completely. That leads us to Mike's next point.

“Teamwork isn't just loading mags and drinking water when you have down time, it means that you're always looking for work. There are always tasks that need to be completed, and tasks are usually completed faster with help. Instead of feeling good about yourself for showing up at an op an hour early and then making yourself feel at home when people are arriving, get off your butt and help unload gear, help set up tents, ask if they need or forgot anything, help them feel welcome.”

One of the measures I’ve always used to identify a good team player and a good leader is to watch what they do when presented with an opportunity to help someone. Mike makes a really outstanding point here: there’s always work to be done. The guys that stand out as solid team players not only have their own shit sorted and squared away, but they’re immediately looking for people to help or operational gaps to fill. The best ones find ways to do it on their own, while the ones with the greatest potential are asking leaders what they can do for the team.


“Teamwork is more than being a good radio or Intel guy, it means you're always looking to expand your skills and knowledge, but you are also figuring out ways to teach that knowledge so you aren't the only one that can do your job. As well, it means creating approved documents and procedures so that guys on the ground are all on the same page. Teamwork means you aren't making the organizational staff take care of everything.”

We see this behaviour from some of the best people. Not only are they voraciously curious individuals that have embarked on their own self-directed learning, they admit they don’t know everything and are eager to learn more. They’re also willing to share. They recognize that any improvement to one person is meaningless unless they can improve the whole. Participants have started training plans, guides, and established standards - not as hoops for people to jump through, but to genuinely help other curious people learn.

It was around this point we started to discuss the pros and cons of having pre existing teams sign up for events.They can be a powerful asset and a well oiled machine. However, they have some failings that are pretty critical. I think Mike makes some more excellent points, so I’ll just let him talk.

“When you let a whole team sign up, it has the potential to ruin expectations for both parties. Everyone has different fitness levels and inventory. As well, mentalities within teams are all over the map. You will get the guy that likes milsim and is a great leader. You'll get the guys that practice reloads in their basement until their hands are sore. You will get the guys that can ruck 12 miles with 50 lb in under 3.5 hours. But you will also get the guys that will follow orders to the letter, but they need a lot of breaks because they haven't kept their fitness up. You'll get guys that are only kind of into milsim, and will tap out when they are cold, tired, or because this isn't actually what they're looking for. Or you'll get the guy with a legit excuse like, ‘man I'm sorry, but I was at work until 5am last night. I'll try my best but I may tap out.’ Teams also usually have their own way of doing things. That's great and all, but that's essentially the same as lone wolfing."

Blackline is open to anyone, but not everyone enjoys it. The demands can be high, and the missions can be boring as shit.There’s also a process to select the right person, with the right equipment, and the right skills, for the right job. On top of all that, there are certain expectations the event places on people that may clash with the way their unit operates. This presents a problem for established groups. If you aren’t able to find a sense of purpose in your contribution to the mission, and you can’t do things the way you’re used to, and you aren’t able to be with your teammates, will you enjoy yourself?

This leads me to one of the final qualities that defines teamwork: the ability to do it with anyone. Teamwork among friends is easy, but at a Blackline event you may find yourself among strangers. To form a truly functioning team among people you don’t know takes courage, persistence, acceptance, cooperation, humility, and a focus on the objective from every single person. Teamwork is hard. But it’s worth it.

To close, I’ll leave you with a final thought from Mike that sums up how all of the people that have attended Blackline feel about teamwork.

“True teamwork is being humble enough to do what's best for the Blackline team, and throwing all personal expectations to the side.”

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