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Is Your Team in Formation?

I was looking through my late father’s photo album and I came across the photograph from his time being trained by the US Navy at Pensacola in 1943. (He is fourth from the bottom) . I was reminded of the advice he gave me in relation to teams in 1980 when I became Captain of Men’s Rugby at The University of Glasgow and he related this advice to his own experience of competitive sport and of being trained by the US Navy and the RAF as a teenage pilot back in 1943-45. The advice he gave me was as follows:

1. Be clear on the team’s purpose and the team’s goal. You will be a member of many teams throughout your working and sporting life and focus is absolutely key. You can only focus if you know exactly what the specific purpose of the team is and what the specific goals the team has to achieve in order to fulfil that purpose. The purpose of the team of 8 young pilots (father is fourth from the bottom) depicted in the photograph was to become top-class pilots for the RAF so that they could contribute fully to the allied war effort and their specific goal was to ensure that every member of the team gained both their US Navy and RAF ‘wings’.

2. Know your role and responsibilities ‘backwards’ and make sure you know the roles and responsibilities of every member of the team. Flying in such a close formation at over 100 mph could only happen if the roles of each pilot within the formation was understood by all. It wasn’t enough just to understand your own role; knowing what other team members’ responsibilities were in relation to the formation was absolutely vital! One wrong decision or move could result in death!

3. Be as skilled as possible. Flying an aircraft is a mix of understanding the theory, the processes involved and in be physically skilled to actually operate the aircraft and its many instruments. Each pilot in the formation had to make sure they were as knowledgeable and skilled as possible – and to keep these updated. Never rest on your ‘laurels’!

4. Awareness. The more you know your fellow team mates the better. Understand their ‘styles’, their motivations, their strengths, and weaknesses. Only this way will you be able to build not rapport and trust, but also potentially compensate for specific development areas that may exist within the group. If flying in such a close formation, knowing individual strengths and weaknesses will not only dictate the order in which the formation flies, but will also make each pilot aware of what might happen in certain situations. Being able to react to sudden ‘instances’ is crucial.

5. Manage the Needs and Expectations. Togetherness and having a ‘one for all, all for one’ attitude is vital. There may be some individuals who are keen to ‘progress’ and get that promotion but they should not try to ‘climb the ladder’ at the expense of their team-mates. Flying in formation has no place for ‘mavericks’ who may endanger the whole flight for the sake of trying to be ‘clever’ or to simply prove they are more skilled than their fellow trainee pilots. It doesn't mean, however, that creativity and innovation is discouraged - in fact the best formation teams encourage creativity and innovation but this is discussed during the frequent reviews and practices.

6. Constant Review is compulsory. After every mission, a review of what went well and what needs worked on for next time, is always carried out. There should never be an occasion where this review is missed, even when a particular exercise or mission went superbly. Never become complacent – you can always make things better, and you can always improve!

7. Go celebrate – and celebrate together. When exercises do go well, and when everyone passes an exam or a test, then go a celebrate together. As the team gels, you will know when it’s right to celebrate and when it’s right not to celebrate!

8. Manage your ‘Seniors’ - Whilst you should always appreciate senior leadership, do not simply be a ‘bystander’ and be in ‘awe’ of them. They are there to support you and the team, and your success is their success. Engage with them, get them ‘on board’ and utilise their experience and expertise. They should be mentors to the team, and an integral part of the team’s success. Bad senior leaders will always be found out!

The areas highlighted above do simply apply to aircraft formation teams or high-performance sports teams. They apply to all teams and if a team is lacking in any of the above areas, then conflict and underperformance will be the result in most cases.

There are a number of very cost-effective Team Manager developmental resources now available to support you in your quest to truly be that ‘Successful Team Manager.’ You can view and access these at:

TEAM-XL online Team Assessment – Allows the team to feedback on strengths and development areas and gets them discussing their development towards high performance. TEAM-XL | PARTNERS Team Dev (

The PARTNERS ‘Action Plan’ for Team Managers – A DIY Guide to getting your team performing.

The book, ‘Team Champion - Taking Teamwork Seriously” -

The Online PARTNERS Team Development Course – A healthy blend of video lectures and questions to get you thinking.

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