I’m currently reading One Bullet Away by Nathanial Fick, a memoir of Fick’s journey to become a Marine Officer.

Fick shares the following advice he learned from Captain Fanning during Officer Candidate School:

”Marines need to know one another’s jobs. Too often platoon commanders focus on the mission while platoon sergeants focus on troop welfare. But you need to do both.”

Captain Fanning then dramatically paused to drive home the reality: “What’s the difference between you and your platoon sergeant? One bullet.”

Regardless of our jobs, we each face the possibility of “one bullet”… a health issue, an accident, a reorganization, a career change, a retirement.

Too often, however, we operate as if nothing will change on our teams until we want something to change.

And then we’re blindsided.

I met Kay after one of my keynotes. She works at a small bank and gushed about the cross-training implemented by her leaders. Once a year, everyone switches jobs for a week to ensure they…

  1. do their own jobs better knowing how others are dependent on them.
  2. take vacation, trusting someone can manage the tasks in their absence.
  3. learn from and appreciate each other more.

What structures or practices will support your team in knowing one another’s jobs?

  • Mentoring
  • Work shadowing
  • Communities of practice
  • Rotational assignments
  • Cross-training
  • Knowledge-sharing platforms
  • Job aides
  • Roundtables
  • Stretch assignments

When my friend Ellen contemplated her retirement, she announced to her team, “My job is to make sure you can each do my job when I retire.” This became her team’s battle cry for the next few years.

The result of Ellen’s intentionality:

  • Elevated esprit de corps on the team
  • Strengthened skills
  • Improved performance
  • Smooth transition of her leadership

Succession typically feels like someone else’s responsibility; but “one bullet away” is always our reality.

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