Reflections on Teamwork…and a Good Read!

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Sauter
  • 315th Airlift Wing vice commander
“The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility—the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole—and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before.”
- Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

About a year or so ago, I was searching for a good book.  And in the 315th Airlift Wing, I’ve determined the best recommendations seem to come from one of our more prolific readers, Chief Master Sgt. Tim Swick.  After gauging my interests, Chief Swick suggested “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown.  Of course, I make it a habit to listen to my senior NCOs, so I found a copy and read it right away.  And it is a good thing I did!  It was terrific; a true story chronicling the University of Washington rowing (aka “crew”) team that competed in Berlin at the 1936 Summer Olympics.  Spoiler alert:  They win.  But, perhaps the best part of the story is the account of how this group of eight rowers and their coxswain come together from  different walks of life and, over time, merge their diverse individual strengths into a “…poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.” (Brown)  Even if you are not familiar with the sport, there are several vignettes illustrating the value of teamwork woven throughout; whose lessons are not only timeless, but also applicable to our military enterprise – so much so that even Gen. Mark Welsh saw fit to add it to his 2015 Chief of Staff’s Reading List.


After finishing the book, I felt compelled to internalize the value of effective teamwork as it applies to the people and missions here at Joint Base Charleston.  Please note that my thoughts invoked the entire “Joint Base” and not solely the Reserve Wing where I work.   Doing so brought together the most critical ingredients of our success – the vast resources of this base and, most importantly, its diversity.  This diversity is captured in our broad mission set; accomplished by multiple military services and service components (active and Reserve), civilian, and contract personnel; and includes military families resident on and off our installations and the community support we depend on every day.  At the highest level, this “Total Force” is the embodiment of our team.  Strengthened by training and supported by leadership, this team’s enduring performance is sustained by a diverse collection of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives offered by all members.   No surprise here, I hope.  But taking a closer look, down to the organizational or unit level, teamwork can be more clearly evaluated and its performance easier to affect.  This is the level where we see the impact of our individual contributions to the effectiveness of our respective teams.

I’ll suggest that team building in the organizations at our Joint Base is a continuous process due to the constant turn-over of personnel and the dynamic nature of our mission sets.  Therefore, it is essential that our teams are always aware of their changing composition, strengths, and weakness as they perform.   Training and operations serve to build and rebuild effective teams, but we must be cognizant of “what” makes our teams successful or unsuccessful.  We embrace diversity as it brings essential strengths and perspectives to our team’s ability to make decisions and operate.   However, we must also consider the value of recognition to identify exceptional performance and best practices; and acknowledge the importance of resilience when our team members are faced with especially difficult challenges.  Taken together, these attributes build and strengthen the bonds of a team.  Most important, however, is our own personal ability to embrace the attributes of teamwork as we tackle tasks and challenges together.  This is the core of humility, which the author Daniel James Brown deftly identifies as the key lesson, that “subsumes individual egos” for the sake of the rowing team.  There may not be Olympic “gold” for our teams at the finish line; but instead, the outcomes of effective teamwork in our organizations make larger impacts on our units’ readiness and, ultimately, our national security.

So I’ll close by publically thanking our 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent for his exceptional recommendation; not only a great read, but an opportunity to reflect on all of the great examples of teamwork here at Joint Base Charleston.  And, I should also point out that since General Welsh shares Chief Swick’s taste in books, great minds must think alike!

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