01 Nov What Happens When You Combine Special Operations Veterans & Business Executives in Patagonia?

The combination of audacity, adaptability, agility, and a high adversity quotient produced a team of teams. Self-Reliant Leadership has been running Crucible expeditions for a few years now with the primary goal of assisting Special Operations veterans with their transition to the business world. With a recent international expedition, we expanded our goal to include figuring out the recipe for accelerating team development. Based on our work, we know that most teams struggle with some degree of dysfunction, and our aim was to prove the hypothesis that a team can gel extremely quickly if the right “recipe” is applied.

Here is what we did:


1We had three criteria that each executive or Special Operations veteran had to meet:

  1. They had to be SELFLESS. For our selection process, we were looking for a sense of service for others – a “we” versus “me” point of view.
  2. The participant had to be ADVENTUROUS. I have observed that the best students and business people are those who are curious, and comfortable with risk – i.e., leaving their comfort zone.
  3. Lastly, we selected those who had HEROIC ASPIRATIONS. They had to have goals beyond making a comfortable living. We looked for people who define success by constantly asking, “For whose good do I serve?” These are people who have the courage to think boldly.

We paired each executive with a Special Operations veteran, and the pairings were based on the expedition leader’s “hunch,” along with similar business interests and aspirations.


From the very start, we emphasized two important traits:

  1. They had to put the team’s goals ahead of their own aspirations.
  2. The only way they could serve others on the team was to be Self-Reliant. If they can’t take care of themselves, they could not possibly be reliable to others.

Other preparation:

We utilized two surveys in advance of the trip. One was a questionnaire about their individual perspectives on trust, conformity, commitment, accountability, and performance. We also asked for their perspective on their teammates’ trust, conformity, commitment, accountability, and performance.

We utilized Pairin to survey each individual, and focused on the outlier attributes where conflict could arise, and how we would mitigate potential dysfunction. We focused on individuality, assertiveness, aggressiveness, playfulness, grit, humility, deference, discipline, and other specific behaviors that had to do with resourcefulness and resiliency. The formula here was to Predict, Prescribe, Perform and Probe in the spirit of Tuckman’s work on Form, Storm, Norm and Perform.

Our follow-up surveys will be underway shortly, and we look forward to sharing those specific results as well.

Here is what we found thus far:


The team was extraordinarily complimentary with common shared values. The team was quick to establish a baseline of common humor, which allowed the team to bond quickly with an extremely high degree of candor with regard to all subjects – even politics and religion!


The commitment to the “mission” and to each other was exceptional. No one wanted to let the team down, and that meant the standard was kept very high. Humor contributed to some good-natured ribbing, and the team provided each other a true feeling of “safety.” They might give each other a hard time, but I doubt they would have been so tolerant with an outsider.

Other observations:

The team stayed positive throughout the entire expedition – even during harsh weather, and tough terrain. When people weren’t feeling 100 percent, they conveyed absolute positivity to the group, and that energy was contagious. Not once did a clique form, or was an individual singled out, or disparaged.

The expectation absolutely was that you had to first be Self-Reliant. There was no way to lead if you didn’t have your body, gear, food and water completely set and in order. But… whenever anyone asked for help (and they did ask for help which can be problematic with top-tier operators), they got help without hesitation. For every circumstance, there was a contingency for illness, injury, or lost items. Complaints were non-existent, and in its place was complete appreciation for the experience, environment, and each other.


Individuals who were not experienced outdoorsmen started to identify themselves as truly belonging in such an extreme environment. We developed a common language, coined nicknames for each other, sorted out specialized competencies amongst the group (including strengths and weaknesses), and became more confident each day in our individual abilities, and that of the team.

To summarize…

Curiosity => Competence => Confidence => Courage => Commitment => Character

These “6 C’s” showed up in a team who were selected for their audacity, and required to be extremely adaptable, which in turn accelerated the team’s development as a highly functional unit.

We postulated that what’s missing in the business world is a P.O.N.R. – i.e., a commitment so consuming it amounts to a Point of No Return for the individuals and the team. Just as we ascended a glacier pass to an icecap, we reached a point where rescue would be extremely difficult, and self-rescue was really the only option if had been needed due to an injury. We had to be self-reliant as individuals – it came from a sense of duty to the team, and the team had to be self-reliant as well.

When a team is that committed, and outside their comfort zone, magic happens, because the mission is bigger than any one individual. The motivation isn’t about selfish pursuits. The motivation is intrinsic and centered on a team you do not want to let down. It’s always amazing to see people draw on reserves they didn’t know they had (which produces confidence and chain of the “C’s” mentioned above.

3When not leading, each follower had a leadership role:

T – It’s all about the TEAM

R – The mission is all about the RESULTS that must be accomplished

E – There is genuine caring and EMPATHY for each other

E – Everyone focuses on making it EASIER for others rather than being a burden

So… the recipe accelerating team success?

There may actually be a “terminal velocity” for team development, because human relationships require an investment of time (which we had with no distractions), but we think we could summarize it this way:

  1. Select Audacious people who are Adventurous, Aspirational, and Selfless.
  2. Set expectations that the team will operate at an extremely high standard.
  3. People support what they help create, so work together to create goals that resemble a journey the team is taking with a Point of No Return that requires a deep commitment comprised of personal discipline and sacrifice.

So what do you get when you mix Special Operations veterans and executives in Patagonia? Frankly, a bunch of bad asses who can accomplish anything they set their mind to.


No Comments

Post A Comment