Esprit de Corps and Culture

I am reading the book, War Fighting, published by the United States Marine Corp, in 1989. I was struck by the following phrase, “Leaders should develop unit cohesion and esprit and the self-confidence of individuals within the unit. In this environment, a Marine’s unwillingness to violate the respect and trust of peers can overcome personal fear.”

This speaks to the value of Culture in an organization. When there is a strong culture, it can instruct, guide and actually propel an organization’s efforts to serve. As a student over the years of the warrior spirit, there has been a lot written about the Brotherhood of Arms. This is where men (and women) will defy the odds to help save their comrades. My wife and I visited a traveling exhibit for the Medal of Honor winners a few years back. If you look at recent history (last century) the award was often awarded posthumously. These people died in service to their fellow warriors.

What drives that behavior? From where I sit it boils down to a number of things that can be distilled into leadership and culture.

Leadership first; people will do a lot for a leader that they believe in. They will work 18 hour days. They will travel 50 weeks a year and they will pull out all the stops (within reason and the law) to achieve the objectives. How does a leader instill this kind of loyalty?

For me I have to trust you. You have to motivated by the higher good of our client and our company, not your own advancement. I have to know that you care about me and that you have my back as I go into the market on your behalf. You also have to demonstrate that you can do what you are asking me to do. I once had a sales manager who told me he didn’t sell, he just managed. Care to guess where that relationship went?

It’s also about training and the environment. We develop culture over time. If you want to build a team put them through the same rigorous training, have them work together and solve problems together and when they come out the other side they will believe in the process and they will have become immersed in the culture.

One of my first jobs was with Owens Corning Fiberglas. To become an insulation salesman we had a 90-day training program. It began with30 days at the Holiday Inn in Toledo OH, with classes at the campus. Followed by 30- days in your new market with the manager followed by another 30-days in Toledo. When we came out we walked the talk because we had lived it.

Arguably the USMC is one of the most elite fighting forces on the planet. They got there by developing a strong culture of training, leadership and self-confidence.  What can you do in your organization to develop unit cohesion and culture that supports your long term goals?

One Comment:

  1. Great article John. If I look at your question directly (what can you do to develop cohesion) one of the answers lies in shared experiences. This is the reason that companies engage in “Team Building Exercises”. It’s not just a fun day out, it’s a shared experience that the team members can build relationships around. But another key component of the cohesion comes from buying into the value(s) of the organization. That word “value” can be viewed multiple ways. It can be viewed as what are the core values of the organization, or in what value does this organization bring to the world at large. I would argue that both are relevant.

    Sharing the same values as the organization means that we share similar belief systems, agree on what is important, and equally importantly, what is not important. Likewise, when I buy into and believe in the product/service that my organization delivers to the world, that also helps motivate me. I want to know that what I am doing makes a difference.

    But these are just the tip of the iceberg. The important point here is that building that camaraderie at work is about much more than having a “pleasant work environment”. Camaraderie at work improves productivity because I do not want to let down those who are important to me.

    Thanks for sharing this.


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