Lessons From The Military

When talking about the military in Singapore, whether it is a source of woe, joy, or entertainment, there can be no doubt that it plays a large role in defining the way Singaporeans live, especially for the males (for obvious reasons). And we all know how controversial the military can be, with so many debates surrounding it. However, we will not be concerning ourselves with any of the controversy. Instead, we will be focussing on what lessons we can learn from it about team building.

Now, it may seem contradictory that we are going to be using an organisation which is by definition rigid in more ways than one to explore team building. However, if you think about it for a moment, what is the military but a large team of smaller teams? The military does offer gems of wisdom for those who look hard enough for them.

For instance, while the military is structurally rigid in its hierarchy, this kind of organisation in a team is not necessarily bad. Firstly, those lower down the hierarchy are able to focus on their specialised technical skills, i.e. working with machinery, without having to worry about other things such as recruitment or productivity, which those higher up the ladder have to think about continually. On the other hand, those higher up on the hierarchy do not have to concern themselves with technicalities, leaving them free to create plans, to oversee what is going on. In a way this leads to better teamwork as every constituent member comes to know his role exceedingly well, and knows how to contribute to the team in his own right.

Moreover, while a military sometimes demands nothing less than mindless cronyism, it can be a good thing to follow a leader without question. While seemingly counterproductive in a society where independent thought and creativity is cherished for the sake of innovation and growth, such behaviour does give space and room for self-reflection, for rumination and philosophising, for one to develop his creativity, all by virtue of the fact that one does not have to think at all about his actions and their consequences.

Furthermore, the thing about the military is that it puts people from different backgrounds — racial, educational, socio-economic, etcetera — together. Having to work together with one another, it promotes inter-cultural team building, since these people wind up habitually interacting with one another. Thus giving a person a greater understanding of other cultures whilst learning how to respect these cultures, it brings benefits to not just the organisation, but also society, by developing a climate of mutual acceptance.

Not that this piece is meant to promote the military, but that it is meant to show how we can learn about team building from it, which can be summarised as follows:

  1. Each member has something contribute according to his specialisation, which should always be taken into consideration when assigning tasks.
  2. Team members need space for reflection, and sometimes the best way to achieve it is to prevent him from developing worries and concerns over his actions.
  3. Having homogeneity in a team may be a good thing, but diversity is even better.

What other gems have you gleaned from your experiences with the military? Leave your comments in the section below.