Tough Lessons on Teamwork

“Everybody comes to a point in their life when they want to quit. But it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are.”

—David Goggins, Navy SEAL

Have you heard of the Tough Mudders? The organizers of these events describe them as “hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all-around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.” As their name suggests, they are indeed “tough.” And I should know: I participated in one last weekend.

When my group of eight hit the course, it was already 82 degrees and the temperature was climbing. The organizers had plotted 22 obstacles over 10.2 miles of terrain covered with steep inclines and declines. About 4 miles in, we hit one of the most dreaded obstacles: the Arctic Enema, in which participants must swim across an ice-filled dumpster.

I successfully navigated this obstacle, but immediately after I stepped out of the 34-degree bath, my calf muscles cramped and locked my feet into a fully flexed position. I was able to pry my feet back down and continue the course, but when we came to the Wounded Warrior Carry, an obstacle that requires two team members to take turns carrying each other for 50 yards, my partner carried me the entire 100 yards to give my calves a chance to rest.

With the help of my team I pushed on, and we managed to finish the course together in a very respectable time. The entire event was challenging, but those last six miles and twelve obstacles in particular reminded me how important it is for me to surround myself with good people in both my personal life and my professional life.

I learned a lot from participating in this event. Among other things, I learned that I have a pretty high tolerance for crawling in mud, running while in pain, and enduring mild electric shocks. More importantly, however, I learned many valuable lessons about teamwork.

You, too, can benefit from these lessons (and without having to do a Tough Mudder yourself!). Just consider the following the next time you assemble a team, whether it’s for a completely in-house project or one that involves engaging external consultants.

  1. Do your goals align? A team works effectively only when everyone is working toward the same ends. (My eight-person team had the collective goal of simply completing the Tough Mudder event, and we worked together to help each other achieve that goal. If we had one team member who was solely focused on completing the course in recording breaking time, this may have resulted in other members failing to achieve their goal of completion).

  2. Is the team prepared to undertake the project? If your team members lack the necessary skills to fulfill their obligations, they will have a very difficult time completing the project, regardless of how much enthusiasm they have for it. (Many people would probably have a blast running through mud but haven’t developed the physical skills needed to complete the Tough Mudder’s other obstacles. My team trained hard for this event).

  3. Will the team do whatever it takes to accomplish its goals? This entails not only putting in a full effort, but it may also involve stepping up to help out another member (as when my Tough Mudder pal carried me through an entire obstacle).

Some of these lessons may seem obvious—and maybe they are. But sometimes the obvious things are the most overlooked and the ones that need repeating the most often. If you really want to drill those lessons into your head, you can sign up for your own Tough Mudder. I suspect, however, that the reminders I’ve presented here will do the trick!


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