Almost twenty-five years in the Air Force serving my country—what a wonderful first career experience I had. There were many things that I enjoyed about the military such as the joy of flying, but over the long haul it’s the close camaraderie with my military teammates that I miss the most.
If you’ve had a similar experience, then you understand the close bonds that are often forged when meeting challenging goals.
Specifically during my Vietnam POW experience, the hardships that my comrades and I endured created a strong bond of brotherhood that endures to this day. Regardless of my work, I still have a longing for that type of connection.
These insights came to mind when I experienced a camaraderie “booster shot” on two recent occasions.
Two Examples of Camaraderie
It began with two days in San Antonio, Texas at an air base where I had served in both command and staff roles. Good memories of past work and teams waft strong when I visit historic Randolph Air Force Base. I was welcomed back into the fold by another generation of warriors closely bound by shared mission and values, and it was an uplifting experience in more ways than I can count.
Then later that week, I flew to France where I experienced that same bond among a team while leading a leadership development and team-building program for an international food distribution company.
Knowing that this was a diverse global team, I had anticipated potential problems in their communications and willingness to be vulnerable with each other. When I joined them for dinner on the first evening though, I had quite a surprise. Let me explain.
There were 35 attendees representing 9 nationalities from 12 countries around the world. Many of these executives are working outside their native country or language, so clearly they had many differences. Yet the thing that stood out most about their time together was their cohesion and camaraderie.
It was clear that they trusted each other. During the long day of work, it was all business with excellent discussions and healthy conflict. As we gathered in the evenings for social time though, it was clear that the group really cared a lot about each other.
Some were clearly more outgoing than others, but every person engaged in their own way. The gathering came alive with fun, laughter, teasing, and the joy of being together.
The Hallmarks of Camaraderie
These positive feelings took me back to the days when I had experienced this type of camaraderie in the military. We were diligently competitive and gave each other straightforward feedback in mission debriefs.
To an outsider, it might appear that we were hard on each other, but we were actually very close. Our bonds of friendship and trust were strong, and we enjoyed socializing, having fun just hanging out and talking about our work and sharing our lives together.
Reflecting back over the years, I’ve noticed that camaraderie is usually present in high-performing teams that endure over a long period of time.
What are some of the hallmarks that we can learn from such teams?
- Time - They have taken the time and energy to build understanding, acceptance, and respect so that individuals feel connected and secure.
- Results - Because they feel belonging, team members don’t want to let the others down so they strive for excellence in accomplishing the mission (getting results).
- Communication – Healthier teams have more frequent and more effective communications. They pick up the phone and call each other to quickly solve problems.
- Team Focus – Healthy teams focus on team results and not just individual effort. Team members help each other succeed and hold each other accountable.
Leadership Steps to Camaraderie
We’ve been talking about the team, but it all starts with the leader. To have this kind of positive energy flowing from human connections, the leader must take the lead.
Here are some important steps to help a leader to build camaraderie:
- Clarify the culture and set the climate. Alignment built around mission, vision, and values is crucial, as is your commitment to be both leader and member of the team.
- Create opportunities and expectations for people to build bonds. Social time outside of work is clearly the best way to get to know each other.
- Connect with each person. Regardless of whether the leader is an introvert or an extrovert, he or she has to engage by connecting with each person making them feel important and welcome. This doesn’t mean that the leader has to be the life of the party. Typically I find more leaders that are introverts than extroverts, but the good ones look to the outgoing, social folks to provide the fun and energy that becomes contagious to the group.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to join this diverse group. They reminded me of the importance of camaraderie. I came away refreshed and inspired.
And oh, by the way, lest you think I stumbled into a social event veiled as a business meeting, they all had completed the Leadership Behavior DNA assessment prior to the meeting and the majority of them came out with scores in the Reserved Trait (versus Outgoing Trait) making the point about camaraderie even stronger.
What has been your experience on teams with and without camaraderie? If you are a leader, what are you doing to promote this powerful bond among your people? Please share your thoughts and comments.
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Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
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His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.
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