Back to Blogs

Building Cultures Before Teams: Part 1

  • Publish Date: Posted over 5 years ago
  • Author: Andrew McKnight

Building Cultures Before Teams: Part 1

This blog post is part of a series on How the Marine Corps Creates High-Performing Teams. Read the intro to this series here.

Building Cultures Before Teams: Part 1

The world’s 911 force, the United States Marine Corps, must be able to operate in any location throughout the world with short notice, and be able to sustain operations for a period of time without logistical support. The potential for an incredibly vague and rapidly changing environment provides the necessary justification to creating teams that can perform without question—regardless of the situation at hand.

This first part of a four-part series on How the Marine Corps Creates High-Performing Teams will focus on the core of how we make this happen. The Marines focus on instilling the Marine Corps culture in every individual before they become Marines. Only once you demonstrate that you have embodied the core values, Honor, Courage and Commitment, will you earn the title of United States Marine.

Should this matter to you? Yes! Building culture before teams provides a common set of values, principles, and standards in which a solid foundation for teams can be created.

Culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution. The key word in this definition is shared. This means that everyone with a cultured organization has the same attitudes, values, goals, and practices as the rest of the organization. 

When I see this, I immediately question whether most of our organizations have a true culture. In my work, I’ve seen many different companies, across many industries, and I have failed to find one that truly has a culture…a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices.

I have seen many micro cultures, which are often optimized for that department or function, but as soon as you begin to interact with other departments or functions, the two micro cultures are likely to conflict with each other.

The Marine Corps sends every individual through 96 days of a standardized, intensive boot camp. There are two purposes to Marine Corps boot camp. 

The first is to teach individuals the basic skills necessary to succeed as Marines. This encompasses uniform standards, rifle skills, hand-to-hand combat, and physical fitness. “Every Marine is a Rifleman,” and as such, every Marine learns these basic skills. They also complete 30 days of training after boot camp to enhance these rifleman skills in Marine Combat Training school, or Marine Infantry School.

This is key to the success of organizations today. In a world where technology is continually becoming more sophisticated and critical to success, it is important that every person within the organization has the right skills to accomplish their tasks. This obviously isn’t as extreme as Marine Corps boot camp, but individuals hired into companies should either already have the necessary skillset or be provided the opportunity to get it.

The second purpose, and most important outcome, of boot camp is to build individuals into Marines. The Marine Corps does not take just anyone and call them Marines. Throughout the 96 days of boot camp, each recruit is taught and tested on Marine Corps customs, courtesies, history, and leadership.

The extreme approach of the infamous Drill Instructor is focused on one thing: break down everything you’ve ever known and learn it the Marine Corps way. The intent, and incredibly consistent results, is to create Marines which adhere to the culture of every other Marine. That is, to have a shared understanding of attitudes, values, goals, and practices that make the Marines who they are.

I would not recommend any organization create a 96-day boot camp which every new employee goes through; however, I would recommend the creation of an extensive onboarding program which takes new employees, and even existing employees, through company history, values, mission, goals, organization structure and expectations on attitudes and interactions throughout the company. Check out this blog from the VP of Professional Development at MATRIX on how she has created a new hire experience to maximize ROI.

It is only when there is truly a shared understanding of the attitudes, values, goals, and practices that you will be able to create high-performing teams…because at that point, we are no longer talking about high-performing individuals…it’s all in the high-performing team.

In the next part of this series, I will dive into how high-performing teams are accompanied by high-performing leaders.