Special Ops & Building Elite Teams

The driving principles and first-hand encounters of an elite team.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

There is a hidden structure and a critical misunderstanding of what it really takes to build, align, and lead an elite team within any rapidly growing business venture. Whilst a tired and lazy set of eyes may look for a shortcut or a 5 step process to reveal this mysterious and ever demanded state of high performance, the curious and ambitious reader will take the time to unravel the finite complexities that business leaders face when building an elite team.

This article highlights the keys lessons from an unforgettable mission that I participated in recently. After years of operating as an Airborne Search & Rescue commando in the special forces, and now as a catalyst for creating formidable partnerships and high-performing teams to founders, business leaders, and fast-growing start-ups, this piece will give you a glimpse into the driving forces that power elite teams.

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I had 48 hours to return to base and my adrenaline spiked. My entire team had been called up for a covert operation, and within a few short hours of the message being sent, everyone had confirmed their arrival. For the next 5 days we all knew that we would be disconnected from our normal lives, unreachable for extended periods of time, and most likely going off-grid. Even though our team is in reserve duty and none of us are forced to take part in the mission, as per usual, everyone stepped up and accepted the call to arms.

As I was driving with my fiancee to base on Thursday morning, I started to feel a dramatic shift from all the usual thoughts, checklists, and emails, to a profound focus of who I needed to show up as for the entirety of this operation. The transition from being busy and distracted, to becoming completely present, awake, and alert to everything around you is something that is developed through very unique experiences and training. The key dynamics of this transition has little correlation with what you do, but rather, it’s all about who you need to become.

The abrupt change from civilian to commando began on arrival. Leaving behind my family, friends, and business to jump into the role of a soldier always feels surreal. As I entered the base, my teammates greeted me with a wry grin and a forceful shove to snap me into work mode. This powerful and loving gesture starts the process of dissolving all ego, and it quickly levels the playing field. From the first day you enter our unit, your head is shaven, you get given a number instead of a name, and you receive the same treatment as everyone else no matter your background, ethnicity, or financial status. The meaningless parts of your identity are stripped away, and during the brutal physical and mental training that we’re put through, a new being is created. The constant breakdown of who we think we are and what we claim to be important creates a space for a mystical type of connection and collaboration within a team dynamic. In that space, a team can transform from a group of individuals into a single entity that naturally brings out the best in each other.

Upon arrival, and in our very first pre-mission briefing, we were clearly and unapologetically reminded that we were 100% responsible for the success of the mission. It didn’t matter who we would meet along the way, or the surprises that we were sure to encounter, the responsibility was solely on us to complete our work and come back safely. The reality of combat zones and high-stake missions forces teams to show up in this way. We have no other choice but to guarantee the desired result.

As word finally came through that we had 2 hours until go time, the mood in the room shifted immediately. Small talk ceased and all conversations became directly related to our preparation for the mission. We all gathered in the middle of our makeshift boardroom and started going through our checklists. As we were making final tweaks, everyone was obsessively helping each other to make sure that the equipment was working faultlessly. Within an hour, we were ready to go.

In the last few minutes before leaving, we did our final radio test knowing that communication is the life-force of an elite team. In contrast to common knowledge, high-performing teams understand that speaking less is the most powerful form of communication. During an 8 hour mission, there may be approximately 100 words shared over the radio, and yet everyone knows the exact whereabouts and work that the rest of the team is doing. During our training, we learned a common language which was both spoken and unspoken. Everyone was a respected and valued partner as we knew that we were completely dependent on each other, and each team member would be a critical part of the success of our operation. This unique combination of strategic action and purposeful communication allowed everyone to do their job flawlessly.

As the sound of the engine fired up, and the smell of petrol filled our lungs, I stood next to my teammate in the open vehicle looking like a character from a movie. We had our night vision tightly fitted to our right eye whilst we supported our weapon on the vehicle. I felt a surprising sense of calm and safety. We were en-route to a very dangerous checkpoint, and yet everything felt as if it was going to be okay. We were able to connect without the need for words, and a simple look or a nod of the head would be the only signal that was necessary for us to make our next decision.

When we arrived at our first check-point, we were fully energized. There was a mix of intensity, clarity, purpose, and the ever-present danger of what would happen if we didn’t perform. This way of showing up left the allied soldiers that we came into contact with looking for direction. They didn’t know what unit we were from and they had no idea of our capabilities, but they knew that we were deadly serious about what we were there to do. Whilst most of the soldiers came to meet us in a sleep-like state, they very quickly woke up as we physically and figuratively shook them back to life. We were 100% invested in bringing everyone to the standard that was demanded from us to succeed in our mission.

That night, whoever entered our world needed to become ruthlessly effective. The teams force magnetized people into a whole new realm of high performance. We welcomed them into this space, and they stepped up as true warriors do.

Driving back from our last check-point, I took a deep breath and felt an overwhelming sense of luck that I was part of such an experience and team. We completed the mission without any major surprises, and as we returned to base, the entire team began to prepare the equipment for the next mission, wherever or whenever that might be. Within minutes, we were ready to be called to action.

If you are an ambitious entrepreneur or business leader who is currently experiencing rapid growth in your company, and if you want to learn how to embed these principles in your business, then the Elite Teams program is for you.

Email: jason@jasonblankfield.com to find out how your team can become unstoppable.