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Your Lab as a Military Operation?

High performing teams consistently fare better than their competitors, especially when the pressure is on.

by Tom Crea
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Take the case of the military, where soldiers must work together as lives are at stake. Every soldier will want to take advantage of opportunities to work together and grow as a team because an occasion might arise where survival requires being able to depend on each other.

For instance, consider the complexity of teamwork and coordination required during the Allies D-Day invasion and establishing the beachhead at Normandy, France during World War II. Teamwork is critical to success.

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A life or death scenario

Imagine a much smaller operation where an infantry unit of 100 men must attack an objective in a remote mountainous area. To get there, they must travel by helicopter and to increase safety, the operation must be done at night. Since it is a mountainous area, there isn’t much open space and two helicopters are the most that can safely fit into the landing zone (LZ).

Now, let’s say each helicopter can carry ten passengers, requiring ten aircraft to insert these troops. The infantry unit will have to be divided into five sorties arriving at the LZ in waves of 20 soldiers each. Coordination between the infantry and aviation units demands synchronization and confidence that everyone will perform their part.

Making a difference

To increase chances of survival, the groups of infantry soldiers must arrive as quickly as possible, one after the other. Upon arrival, they will need to clear the LZ and form a perimeter to provide security and allow the next sortie to land safely.

The helicopter unit will have to time their flights so that they land within seconds of the prior sortie’s takeoff, offload the troops, and then clear the area for the next flight of aircraft. Finally, yet another aviation unit will provide close air support and the necessary firepower to protect the helicopters during the ingress, landing, and egress phases, as well as the soldiers who are on the ground.


Each infantryman must know how to safely enter and exit the helicopter, and once it lands, know exactly where to go and what to do when they get there— all of this occurring in the dark.

Each helicopter crew will have primary and secondary responsibilities such as flight navigation, coordination with the infantry unit, or coordinating air cover with the close air support aircraft. The close air support unit needs to know the helicopter flight routes and the location of the infantry soldiers so that there are no friendly fire casualties.

The complexity of the operation requires coordination and teamwork. Three separate organizations must be able to do their part and synchronize their efforts to work as one team.


So far, our scenario assumes everything is going as planned. However, what if something goes wrong? How does each element react to a change? What are the individual responses and the collective reaction of the entire team?

Inevitably, something may go wrong, but the best teams are so well prepared that they have a contingency plan for a variety of scenarios.

Whether lives are at stake or not, teamwork requires trust in one another and confidence in leadership; principles that apply to any team.

How do you motivate your team to stay committed?

“The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they are part of a team is to sacrifice. Without sacrifice, you’ll never know your team’s potential, or your own.” – Pat Riley

Leaders who appreciate teamwork create an environment that allows their team to feel that they can learn, grow, and be a part of something greater.

How well does your team work together to answer these challenges?

LABCAST: Be sure to attend Tom Crea's Lab Manager Academy webinar, "Leadership in the Lab: It Takes an Army!" on April 1, or afterward at to watch the archived video.