Shared Experiences Make Great Teams

Many of the business and nonprofit leaders I work with today are always asking how they can build a team like the ones we see in the military.

I am often amazed at how the men and women I served with overseas are still as close today as we were back in the shared struggle of Ranger School.

A huge challenge for a lot of business leaders is building a cohesive culture of people that show up for each other, fight for each other, and stands shoulder to shoulder with each other. These leaders want the kind of team that swaggers into a conference together, an A team that is all-in, all the time.

I believe this is essential in this day and age. If we’re going to, as organizations, be relevant and stand the tests of stress, fiscal responsibilities, change, distraction, and low trust, our teams have to be so resilient. They have to do the right thing when we’re not looking. They have to tell our organizational story better than their leaders do. They have to show up and fight for each other. And that is no easy task these days because there’s so much individualism out there, and it’s hard to even find the inspiration. I get it, I do, but I believe that you can build these kinds of teams, and it’s easier than you think.

One of the first things you want to do to build a great team is to is adopt the mindset of the “shared experience.” The reason my special forces buddies have all stayed connected is because we endured an enormous struggle—together. When you share a struggle, an inexplicable bond is formed. To re-create that bond and build stronger teams where a true shared struggle isn’t possible, we can create the collective mindset of a shared experience.

Remember, humans are social beings, always keeping tabs at a semiconscious level on who we can group with, who we can work with, and who we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with. The people we have shared experiences with are the ones we’ll form deeper bonds with.

How you build your team around these shared experiences matters. Get off-grid. Take your team somewhere where you can let your toes uncurl. It can be a day trip into a neighboring park, or a week in the mountains, but get your people away from those office distractions. That’s No. 1.

No. 2, stack those phones out of reach from participants. People constantly checking their phones takes away from the group dynamic and keeps them disconnected from the shared experience.

No. 3, get yourself a fire pit. If you want to foster the most impactful, powerful group dynamics, get a fire pit, put your people around that fire pit, and when the sun goes down, do some story work around that fire pit. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years and its magic has built countless clans, tribes, and teams.

Ask this one key question, one by one, when you’re around the fire pit, “What was the best team you were ever on and why?” Then sit back and watch what happens.

Everyone will get a true sense of what their teammates think makes a great team. This is gold when you are trying to figure out how you show up for each other and build a culture.

I saw this recently when I was coaching a corporate leadership team that was having trouble connecting. Around a crackling fire, they shared disparate stories about past teammates who had helped each other climb. A senior vice president shared a story of neighbors who had come to her aid after a hurricane demolished her house, for example.

By the time the stories were done, everybody had a better sense of each other, of themselves, and of what they valued. They also had a shared sense of what a great team looked like. The collective mindset of the team had fundamentally shifted.

It’s not hard to do, just get out there and do it. Creating this culture can create a healthy work environment where people get the job done. 

Remember, shared experiences make great teams.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit


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