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Episode 21: What the Navy SEALs Can Teach You About Building a Successful Team

Featuring: Dave Cooper, Former U.S. Navy SEAL & Founder of Verge

Key Takeaways

In this episode, former Navy SEAL and founder of Verge, Dave Cooper, discusses with Ecosystems’ CEO and Voice of Value podcast host, Chad Quinn, the lessons he learned as a SEAL and in situations of life or death. Learn how his experiences relate to organizational communities, and how the culture of an organization relies heavily on our ability to embrace feedback and the unknown.

  • [1:15] – Dave opens with a discussion about the defining moments that led him to the Navy SEALs.
  • [2:25] – Dave shares his first introduction to the existence of the Navy SEALs.
  • [3:30] – Chad and Dave discuss Thoreau and his capturing of the profound influence of nature on man. Dave reminisces on the feeling he felt on the summit of El Capitan.
  • [5:00] – Deliberate discomfort makes way for growth. There is a limit to discomfort, yet before that limit is where the most change occurs.
  • [5:30] – Chad introduces the purpose of this Voice of Value podcast and how Dave Cooper’s experience may benefit listeners from all backgrounds and careers.
  • [6:00] – Dave talks about a mission in 2001, where his team was severely under-equipped.
  • [6:50] – Dave discusses the bowing to rank and the ill-planned execution of a mission.
  • [10:00] – The takeaways from this mission included the danger of the inability to question the higher-ranking officer and, additionally, the necessity of embracing your own questioning of the morality of situations.
  • [11:30] – Following the events in 2001, Cooper realized his ability and the necessity to question misled authority.
  • [12:00] – Prior to the Bin Laden mission, confirmation bias led to the death of many innocent civilians.
  • [13:40] – Cooper discusses his encounter with the woman who led the analysis team in finding Bin Laden, and her tenacity in presenting her findings and, ultimately, heroism for the mission.
  • [14:10] – Cooper’s questioning of an Admiral’s decision led to the Admiral losing both his cool and the respect of other officers throughout his career.
  • [15:10] – Cooper discusses the Captain Phillips rescue and the height of the Admiral’s ego in his discontentment with the rescue because he was not the one to “make the call.”
  • [16:30] – The Admiral’s furthered an obscene exemplification of ego when he opted to demonstrate a show of force to another instance of pirates taking a vessel, and following this decision to show force, the pirates gunned down the hostages.
  • [17:30] – The system has always rewarded obedience, and in the case of the Somali pirates, the shortcomings of this system were revealed and cost several lives.
  • [18:30] – Due to being forced to use improper helicopters for the mission, their training in controlled crashes allowed the team to still complete their mission
  • [19:55] – Cooper talks about watching his team conduct the Bin Laden raid, and how he felt in watching the mission take place.
  • [22:15] – Cooper tells the story of someone who was in the room to make the decision to go after Bin Laden, and the courage of one individual to step forward.
  • [24:50] – Moral courage often goes unrewarded, and there is a tendency to take criticism personally, and this hinders progress and discussion.
  • [26:30] – Cooper calls for change through toughness: opening oneself up to harsh critical feedback ensures the safety and success of missions.
  • [27:00] – Feedback is essential: recognizing that we are all encumbered by criticism of our decisions helps us grow and perform at a distance from our egos.
  • [27:55] – An admittance from leadership of their mistakes promotes an environment where individuals do not fear criticism or failure.
  • [28:20] – Chad Quinn introduces the next topic: Cooper’s discussion of the Navy SEAL Team culture.
  • [29:10] – Cooper discusses mission debriefs (After-Action Reviews), and how we learn to do better and develop relationships within teams that allow for open feedback and, consequently, vast improvements.
  • [30:20] – It’s okay to take a risk in front of my team: Cooper’s explanation of this “mental model” allows for openness between teammates and an ability to enhance learning.
  • [31:10] – There is no simple way to encourage vulnerability: when a teammate shows vulnerability, support from their team shows them they can make mistakes and share them, thus creating an environment for growth.
  • [33:00] – Relationships form around tasks, and having rules of engagement allows for an ever-present standard of teamwork combined with a diversity of action.
  • [35:00] – Culture is a mosaic that is focused around the organization’s mission, and culture presents itself through the same mechanism whether in the military or in a business.
  • [36:00] – Individuals come back from feedback with their perspectives, and a community allows for a diversity of skills, thought, and essential dialog.
  • [37:05] – Chad introduces the last topic: Finding the change, effectively allocating time and attention to tasks and the concept of sense-making.
  • [38:00] – Iterations, interactions, and feedback loops are forwarded by the complexity of the human body’s adaptation to change. Chad Quinn asks, given the biology of humans, where do the first changes occur?
  • [38:30] – Cooper discusses that truly impactful change comes from the bottom-up. Paying attention to good behavior promotes communal change.
  • [40:00] – We can promote change with positive reinforcement of commendable behavior and watch this change take hold within an organization.
  • [41:15] – Cooper discusses how embracing uncertainty forwards progress and promotes sense-making. Sense-making is a team sport.
  • [42:30] – Rallying around your team guarantees an ability to adapt, produce results, and allow for representation of every team segment.
  • [44:00] – Meaning is internal and powerful.

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