Unstoppable Teams: A book review by Bob Morris

Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership
Alden Mills
HarperBusiness (March 2019)

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  African proverb

According to Margaret Mead, we should never doubt that “a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” As Alden Mills would be among the first to point out, some teams are unstoppable; most aren’t. Based what he has learned from wide and deep prior experience during more than thirty years with high-performance teams, he has identified four “essential actions”  — connect, achieve, respect, and empower — that, taken together, lie at the heart of every great team. I call it the CARE loop.”

Mills devotes a separate chapter to each of the four while explaining how and why they are interdependent on great military teams such as Army Green Berets, Night Stalkers, and Rangers; Navy SEALs and SEALs Missions; Marine MARSOC, RECON, and RECON MIssions; and Air Force Special Tactics. He is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Military Academy and led three SEAL platoons.

As I worked my way through the narrative, I was again reminded of great teams in other domains such as those involved with the Manhattan Project, Lockheed’s “skunk works,” Xerox’s Research Center (PARC), and Bell Laboratories. However different their challenges and objectives may have been, all of these groups had exceptional leaders who orchestrated communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration.

Mills observes, “Unstoppable teams come in all shapes and sizes, they all depend on understanding human emotions, motivations, and values. It is both complex and as simple as this: you must [begin italics] care [end italics]. Caring is the cornerstone for building trust and persistence in any group. When people feel cared for and when they care about the tasks and the goals at hand, they are willing to step beyond their perceived limits and dare to do something greater than they originally thoughts possible.”

I was especially interested in his discussion of these subjects:

o The Focus, Feel, Act formula
o The “Outcome Account” framework
o The power of triangulation
o “The Seven Unstoppable Traits”
o “The Three Cs” of effective connection (i.e. communication, credibility, and commitment)
o Pride in team in combination with personal humility
o Lessons to be learned from President Lincoln’s “team of rivals”
o Lessons to be learned from Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill’s Gallipoli “disaster”
o Lessons to be learned from John Wooden
o Activating the 10X Advantage

Before concluding his book, Alden Mills recalls his first parachute jump, his “most terrifying moment in SEAL training.” Why did he share this story? “First, team building and leading are a lot like taking that first jump. You’re jumping into the unknown. It’s scary, but you jump anyway. Second, we are all, in effect, packing our own parachutes. You may never find yourself on the ramp of a C-130 at fourteen thousand feet, but it may feel just like that when you’re faced with the task of building a team to conquer a seemingly impossible obstacle. Each time you pack that parachute, you get better, more confident, and more skilled. Each jump gets a little easier.”

All of us have encountered a comparable situation when faced with a daunting challenge for the first time and feel somewhat intimidated by it. Perhaps we needed someone to lead us through it. Perhaps others depended on us to lead them through it. Whatever, we faced the challenge as a group. We were connected, we achieved, we shared mutual respect, and were empowered by it. In reality, few teams are “unstoppable” but none succeeds without high-performance leadership.

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