Successful Teams Set the Tone


Combat is a world of high stress and low margin for error that is fueled by adrenaline. The manner in which military aviators prepare for and start our missions is critical to being successful teams.

But setting the tone isn’t just for missions executed from a cockpit – it’s for missions executed anywhere. Whether you’re executing your mission from an office in Shanghai, an oil rig in the Gulf, an R&D lab in Palo Alto or anywhere else for that matter, setting the right tone will have significant impact on your results.

At the tactical level, setting the tone can bring immediate, tangible improvement in day-to-day operations while reinforcing your desired cultural characteristics and building a sustainable organizational culture at the strategic level (what we call the Organizational Identity). Here are just a few ways you can set the right tone for your new year’s mission:


► Start and End Meetings on Time

This isn’t a novel idea, nor is it as easy as it might seem, but it is one of the most impactful ways to establish disciplined operations. When you start and end meetings on time, it demonstrates your respect for the participants’ schedules and sets the expectation for actionable meeting deliverables within a specified timeline

► Hold Yourself Accountable

Accountability is a common challenge with a fairly simple solution: hold yourself accountable so that others may learn how to do so. As a leader who is capable of self-identifying missteps or Task Saturation and committing to correcting or preventing their recurrence, you are demonstrating a rare leadership quality that will build trust and empower team members to identify and correct issues autonomously.

► Don’t Just Acknowledge — Celebrate — Small Wins

Your teams’ tactical missions and daily efforts should align to and directly support your business strategy goals, so small wins (no matter how small) should be celebrated. This doesn’t have to be a true celebration with balloons, cake, and Tom from accounting but it does need to be applauded with emphasis on the strategic execution goals that were advanced due to the small win. Whether your team wins a new account or meets a project deadline, celebrate the results and you’ll increase your chances of seeing them over and over again.


► Act With Discipline

A large part of team dysfunction is due in part to a lack of operational discipline. Organizational excellence is found in cultures where discipline is an underlying but omnipotent element of day-to-day operations. This will take time and patience, and the first step in enabling good habits developing and adhering to standard operating procedures (SOPs).

► Build a Culture of Continuous Learning

The power of Flawless Execution lies in the iterative, four-phase methodology of the Flawless Execution CycleSM. Why? Because we know that performance excellence is only possible through iterative improvement, and the FLEX Cycle provides the simple tools to scale iterative improvements up, down and across different verticals and levels in your organization. By starting with a process-oriented approach to continuous learning, individuals will begin to consciously and subconsciously seek better solutions or ways of executing, organically creating a learning culture.

► Be a Mission-First Leader

Last week the fiscal year ended for many organizations and whether written on a sheet of paper or plastered on a dashboard, annual goals were reviewed for performance. Whether you cringe at the thought or celebrated a great year, it doesn’t matter. That’s right, whether you exceeded your goals or missed by a long-shot, your past year’s performance does not matter—it will not help you win in the new year—but your past Lessons Learned will. Your Lessons Learned should already be incorporated into your new year’s Mission Plan, no need to reflect on them. If the stakes are higher because of previous performance, that’s all the more reason to keep your team focused on the mission—the new year’s mission. Your team is operating in complex, rapidly changing environments that require 100% focus so it’s your job as a leader to help them “forget” last year and think today and beyond because that’s where you’re going.

Find the Tone You Set With a Team Building Seminar

There are many things you can do to set the tone for your team this year, and doing nothing isn’t one of them. Demonstrate your excitement for the opportunities that lie ahead and the team who will make it all possible and that excitement will feed the momentum to make this year all it can be. Learn more about our team building seminars to get started.


James D. “Murph” Murphy, the Founder & CEO of Afterburner, Inc., has a unique and powerful mix of leadership skills in both the military and business worlds. Murph joined the U.S. Air Force where he learned to fly the F-15. He logged over 1,200 hours as an instructor pilot in the F-15 and accumulated over 3,200 hours of flight time in other high-performance aircraft.Through his leadership, Afterburner landed on Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500/5000 List four times. Murph has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Inc. Magazine, Newsweek, Meetings & Conventions Magazine and has appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC and Bloomberg News. Murph is the author of five bestselling books including, Flawless Execution, and has also been invited to speak at many of the world’s most notable business schools, including Harvard, Wharton, Cornell, Emory, Duke, MIT and Fudan University in Shanghai, China.