Building a “Battlefield-Like Sense of Camaraderie”

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Without a doubt, my favorite leadership book of all time is The Score Takes Care of Itself by Coach Bill Walsh. I shared my overall notes awhile back and my two favorite leadership takeaways as well. Today, I want to talk about a third takeaway and specifically how it applies to remote work.

Coach Walsh is widely recognized as one of the best coaches in the history of the NFL. He was an absolute master at taking a team of individual contributors and marrying them together to create a winning team – no small task.

In the book, he shares this line:

The leader’s job is to facilitate a battlefield-like sense of camaraderie among his or her personnel, an environment for people to find a way to bond together, to care about one another and the work they do, to feel connection and extension so necessary for great results.

Isn’t that the truth.

To create truly great results, we need everyone working in concert together, sharing and caring for one another. Certainly easier to say than to create in practice.

The Research on Camaraderie

I just love the phrase “a battlefield-like sense of camaraderie.” When I read it, I have an intuitive sense of what it looks and feels like in practice. Hopefully, we’ve all had a similar experience where we were part of a team that embodied this level of connection.

To translate all of those feelings into concrete words and actions, we can move from the football field to the tech circle, specifically to the Google campus.

Google has done some extensive research on what makes an effective team. I recommend Work Rules!, which shares many of the takeaways, but there’s an abbreviated summary of some high-level takeaways available here.

In short, Google identified five areas present across all effective teams:

  1. Psychological safety – A psychologically safe environment is one in which teammates feel comfortable taking risks in front of their teammates. They’re confident that they won’t be punished or embarrassed.
  2. Dependability – Everyone can trust that their fellow teammates will complete work reliably and on-time. No one shirks responsibility.
  3. Structure and clarity – Everyone is clear on the team and individual responsibilities as well as the set processes around growth and performance management.
  4. Meaning – There’s an underlying purpose to the work. The work makes a real difference to real people and improves the world in some way.
  5. Impact – It’s clear how achieving the team’s goals (or failing to do so) will positively or negatively impact the company’s mission.

Together, these five characteristics define the fuzzier “battlefield-like sense of camaraderie” Coach Walsh alluded to. I get that feeling when I’m working on a tight-knit group facing a challenging problem with clear consequences.

Let’s take all of those factors above and translate them into practice.

Google’s 5 Factors in Practice (in 100 Words)

I issued a challenge to myself to articulate the “how” for implementing those five factors within a remote team in less than 100 words. So, here it goes:

Establish a challenging set of goals, built off a clear mission. Link goals to the success of the company through clear metrics. [Impact/Meaning]

Break goals down into individual responsibilities within the team. Have weekly 1:1s and monthly team reviews. Celebrate progress visibly. [Structure/Clarity]

Work with each team member to set up a growth plan. Guide individuals towards aspects of the goals that align with their aspirations. [Dependability]

Share individual weekly recaps. Encourage commenting, pair working sessions, and non-work chats. Link individuals together tackling similar challenges. [Dependability]

Ask for feedback and incorporate it into the goals. Share your own mistakes. Respond to mistakes appropriately. [Psychological safety]

Every quarter, start back at the top and work your way back down to make sure all is in place.

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