#FreeChapterFriday – Building a Culture to Win: Chapter 1

#FreeChapterFriday – Building a Culture to Win: Chapter 1

As part of our #FreeChapterFriday Series, every first Friday of the month, CATSHOT Group will release a new chapter of  Building a Culture to Win: Expanding the Frontier of Human Achievement.

This week, we’re starting with Chapter 1: The Performance Triad™ Straight Up into the Clouds: How Passion, Free Will and Focus Enable the Impossible.

Below you can find the chapter in full. Enjoy!

World-class teams have a unique aura and mystique that people can feel the moment they come into contact with them. Those inside the organization are excited to be there; they know they are part of something special. The passion for what they do fuels a constant effort to always improve and innovate. They are living in a culture of excellence where the success of an individual or department raises the performance of the entire organization. Those on the outside see an unstoppable team exuding confidence in everything they do. Outsiders cannot always put their finger on why, but they feel a desire to be around them, to work with them. The team’s enthusiasm is contagious. I have been lucky enough to be part of two world-class teams with international reputations for excellence— the Blue Angels and the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known as TOPGUN. My experience with these two organizations taught me that they had three overarching factors needed for their success — The Performance Triad:

  • Passion. Each team member had a passion for the organization. Passion is the fuel that drives individuals to achieve beyond what is normally considered humanly possible. Passion is what makes team members live, eat and breathe the organization, thus creating momentum.
  • Free Will. Free will may seem to be counterintuitive as a key teamwork skill. Yet, when properly harnessed, it serves as the oxygen for the fire fueled by passion. Free will stokes the fire of innovation and fuels continuous improvement. The more free will, the hotter the flames burn.
  • Focus. Focus brings heat to the fire. Focus is what hones the momentum created by your team’s passion and harnesses the direction of the team members’ free will.

Without fuel, oxygen and heat, you will produce no flame. Likewise, letting any leg of The Performance Triad fall away— passion, free will or focus— will not produce a world-class organization.

When the elements of The Performance Triad are present in the proper balance, a team will be functioning at its optimal level. Just as a fire must be continuously managed to produce the best flame, an organization must always be adjusted to produce the best results.

Your goal is to build an organizational culture where the proper equilibrium between the three elements becomes self-seeking – the culture finds the best balance with little intervention and adjusts as necessary for changing conditions.

Truly world-class teams have cultures that naturally seek optimal equilibrium between passion, free will and focus.

CATSHOT Performance TriadIn the fall of 1990, the Navy was transitioning a large portion of its aircraft carrier-based aircrafts from the A-7 Corsair attack aircraft to the new F/ A-18 Hornet Strike Fighter aircraft. Due to that transition, Attack Squadron 105 (VA-105), based in Naval Air Station Cecil Field Florida, was slated for decommissioning.

The squadron known as the “Gunslingers” divested itself of most of its key assets including many pilots and maintenance personnel. The remaining pilots flew minimal hours and prepared their old A-7s to be mothballed. In mid-January 1991, President George H.W. Bush ordered the start of Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait after Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded.

The U.S. military’s plans changed almost overnight, as the massive deployment of nearly all combat-ready squadrons began. The almost-decommissioned VA-105 Gunslingers would not be one of them. As the rest of the naval squadrons began their prep for deployment, the Navy realized it needed a place to send the new F/ A-18 Hornets rolling off the factory floor. As a result, the Gunslinger’s decommissioning was halted, and its designation was changed to Strike Fighter Squadron 105 (VFA-105) as it began receiving the brand new Hornets. When I arrived at the VFA-105, we had new jets and a few great people, but not much else. It was time to rebuild. The partial decommissioning process had taken its toll. The Gunslingers went from being one of the nation’s premier squadrons in the A-7 days, to one that was struggling and unfocused. It was time to kick The Performance Triad into high gear.

An Amazing Transformation

We had a great Commanding Officer and Executive Officer who allowed the Gunslinger Department Heads, including me, to use our initiative – our free will – to develop a vision of what was possible for the squadron.

My passion for flight operations, along with the ability of my fellow department heads to tap into the passion and free will of the officers and sailors under their charge, led us to the goal of out-planning, out-training, and out-flying all the other squadrons on our base.

We focused on the task at hand – combat readiness – by dropping more practice ordnance, shooting more bullets, and flying more hours than any other squadron. We would execute with meaning, with the emphasis on “deliberate practice,” more than ever before. We aimed to be innovative in how we employed the new aircraft and how we organized the effort of the team.

We worked to reignite the passion of our team – extracting the most from every training evolution and developing a culture that enhanced the capabilities of every junior officer and every one of our support personnel.

For pilots, pre-flight briefs and post-flight debriefs were extensive and thorough. Everything we did was oriented toward how we could do things better. The maintenance team focused with equal passion and began to achieve sortie completion rates that were unheard of.

We shared our passion and worked to encourage the same feeling in others. Pretty soon, the passion began to spread – more individuals were willing to exercise their free will in innovation. The whole team became motivated.

As a result, tangible evidence of improvement appeared at all levels in the work of pilots, maintenance crew, and administrative personnel. Individuals were now taking initiative on their own to improve upon systems, ideas and techniques.

For example, we raised enough money to be the first squadron to have our own gym in our squadron spaces. This gave pilots more opportunity in their busy schedule to stay in peak physical condition. We played harder. We worked smarter. And we enjoyed every moment.

It was an awesome time to be a Gunslinger!

Writing Our Story

We not only worked hard and tried new things; we focused on best practices and created standard procedures that everyone followed. We began to develop our story – a combination of lore, incidents, and practices – that we shared and repeated to others.

Documenting the squadron’s story created an expectation. When anyone joined the squadron, they already knew they were now part of a culture of excellence – they were expected to uphold those ideals to be part of the team.

Every winning organization develops a legacy of achievements that come together to tell its story. This legacy focuses team members on accomplishments and standards, attracting others who are motivated to add their own chapters. It is a key part of making the Triad sustainable.

In addition, putting your story on paper helps your team – as well as those who are watching your team – better visualize what it is like to be a winner. Visualization of what success looks like is key to getting you and your team to the same place at the same time.

Over time, organizations develop mystiques, culture with which all members of the team, new and old, can identify – they have the same vision of success. Individually, they become part of the story; the legacy. This motivates them to take part and to do what it takes to maintain the high levels of innovation and execution necessary to consistently perform at the world-class level.

The Triad in Business

My experience with The Performance Triad in these military teams can be seen reflected in the success stories of teams in private business in sports.

  • Apple Computers – Steve Jobs, the innovative, no-compromise leader of Apple, consistently focused on quality and function in how he designed and built Apple’s products. He made sure they encompassed excellence on every conceivable level, from external packaging to the smallest detail of interior construction. When Steve Jobs was forced out as the Apple CEO in 1985, his culture of excellence went with him and Apple suffered. Upon his return, Jobs was able to re-establish the culture by infusing his passion for constant improvement, harnessing the free will of his employees that led to innovations, and focusing the company on what it does best – deliver innovative, personal consumer electronics. He then took steps to make the culture stick upon his eventual absence.
  • Starbucks – Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, took a cheap commodity – coffee – and turned it into an experience. He demonstrated that customers would pay for a superior coffee paired with a high-quality customer experience. Schultz’s passion for coffee and customer service was contagious. Starbucks grew seemingly without effort, so Schultz felt he could step away from the day-to-day management. However, the company soon lost its focus during a quick expansion. Schultz returned to re-focus the organization around a team of individuals who shared his passion and his focus. He let go those who did not. Starbucks also learned to harness the passion and free will of its customers and staff by creating a forum for bringing forth product ideas that the company tests for use in its stores.
  • 1980 U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey Team – Twenty young American men from differing backgrounds and only eight-months of training performed “The Miracle on Ice” by defeating the much more experienced Soviet Olympic Ice Hockey team at the 1980 Olympics. USA coach Herb Brooks hand-selected the team, taking careful stock of their skating and stick skills. As legend has it, he was obsessed with putting together a team, not just a group of individuals. Therefore, he also evaluated each player’s personal drive to contribute to the team as a whole. Brooks refocused the team members’ loyalties from their college teams to Team USA. He built their passion around the honor of playing for their country, not for themselves. With this new focus, Brooks was able to harness the players’ passions that allowed them the freedom, or free will, to use their skills the best way they saw fit. Each of these examples of world-class organizations needs little explanation, because we all know their story. Their exuberance for their professions is palpable. They are surrounded by a contagious sense of mastery, and their laser-like focus on efficient execution of the smallest details makes the difficult look easy. They consistently deliver breathtaking performances. People want to be with winners, and mutual support among and across teams is a vital factor in resilience over time. If you look inside those teams, you will find passion, free will and focus all hard at work.

Points to Remember:

  1. Passion is the fuel that motivates individuals and groups to put in maximum effort.
  1. Free Will is the oxygen that enables innovation and a continuous search for mastery.
  1. Focus concentrates both passion and free will to create enough heat to ignite a fire.
  1. A balanced Performance Triad consisting of passion, free will, and focus is necessary to maximize output.
  1. Visualization is key to taking your team or organization to the next level. All team members must be able to see what success is and work together to achieve it.

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