Have you noticed how certain teams—military, police, or sports—are consistent winners, year after year? What is the secret to their longterm success? Have they discovered a secret fountain of success or some magic formula? Whatever their secrets, there are lessons the rest of us can learn from their success.
While every team has its own unique variables, they also share certain commonalities. As we explore some of these traits, think of how they might apply to our SWAT teams and turn our teams into consistent winners.
Let's begin with those who comprise the team: warriors. Winners are warriors, and warriors are winners. Anyone who's listened to LTC Dave Grossman talk about warriors understands how rare true warriors are, along with their vital importance to victory. The goal is to fill your team with warriors, and everything else will start falling into place.
Team success requires teamwork. The whole team working together, as one, clicking on all cylinders. While this appears obvious, it is often easier said than done. There are many examples of teams that aren't winners, despite the presence of individual superstars. Conversely, there are many examples of winners without superstars.
Winning teams have long, rich histories of tradition. Take the U.S. Marines as a prime example. The Marines recently celebrated their 232nd birthday with a reverence reserved for "the few, the proud" and universally recognized among all military personnel, regardless of what branch of service they serve or served.
The Marines are not alone in adhering to tradition. All winning teams I know are steeped in the pride of their respective traditions, which become ingrained in their culture and passed down from generation to generation.
Traditions give rise to rivalries, especially in sports, and particularly in football. Take the recent 104th Ohio State vs. Michigan football game, and the upcoming 108th Army vs. Navy game. Both rivalries are long and bitter, with the entire season's success hinging on this one game. Far more than mere football rivalries, the Ohio State-Michigan game is a "war" between both entire states. The Army-Navy game becomes all out "war" between the two proud military branches. The "big games" define not only the whole season, but also the entire year.
The interesting thing about these fierce rivalries is the result is a two-sided coin, with "heads" as hatred and "tails" as respect. Take what many view as the most bitter, intense, personal sports rivalry of all time: between legendary football coaches Woody Hayes for Ohio State and Bo Schembechler for Michigan. Their on-field hatred was so great the rivalry became known as the "Ten-Year War."
However, a curious, ironic thing happened once both retired; they became best friends the rest of their lives. How could something so unthinkable happen? The answer is the mutual respect worthy opponents, no matter how bitter, have for each other deep down inside.
The closest thing to a "rivalry" among SWAT teams I know of is between LAPD and LASD. Fueled by their proximity to each other, this "friendly" rivalry has quietly existed for many years, and is a major reason why both teams are among the most professional and respected in America.
How does all this apply to SWAT, and specifically to your team? The first thing is to fill your team with warriors who are winners, who understand and have what it takes to prevail, especially when the going gets the toughest. Only warriors need apply to SWAT.
Next, forge your warriors from individuals into a tight team. They must work together as one and prevail on each and every mission the team goes on. The means for developing the desired teamwork is to work together as often as possible through constant training and real-world missions. Always emphasize the team over the individual.
Develop team traditions that will be passed down to succeeding generations of SWAT. I'm confident SWAT will be an integral part of policing for many years to come. Traditions are a bond that draws the team closer together, where stories and legends are told and retold, where the past is honored and revered by those privileged to walk in their predecessors' big footsteps.
Rivalries between SWAT teams—like LAPD vs. LASD—are found wherever competing teams coexist. Sooner or later, these competing teams end up testing each other. There's a natural curiosity to see who's best, which is a big reason for the increasing popularity of SWAT competitions. An interesting result of these SWAT rivalries is the mutual respect that forms between teams and the challenges of "next year."
This is only a capsule version of what makes a successful SWAT team. Start with warriors, forge them into a team steeped in tradition, give them worthy rivals who they have mutual respect for, and watch them turn into winners. Then roll up your sleeves, because the real work has only just begun.
Why is the team so important in SWAT? The answer is history has taught us that throughout recorded history, troops don't fight for country or policy; they fight for each other, the "team."
And how will you know that your team is ready? You'll see it when you look into the steely gaze of your team's eyes.