February 29, 2024

Translating Teamwork With Greg Poole

If you’ve served in the military, you know how team-orientated it is. Every mission and task relies on strong comms and flawless collaboration.

In this edition of The Redeployable Rocket, we’re exploring skills translation, specifically focusing on how you can use your strong cross-collaborative skills in a civilian environment.

We spoke to Greg Poole, who served in the Parachute Regiment in the British Army. He deployed to Afghanistan, moved into guns, and was then part of the PT staff, keeping troops fighting fit for a couple of years before he signed off.

Once leaving, Greg enrolled in university to study business in the Netherlands and kicked off his civilian career as an intern in business development. To date, Greg has worked as a sales development representative and account executive, honing his skills as a solution salesperson.

Greg in the interview seat

Our conversation focused on how he leveraged his military experiences and skills after leaving the forces. We touch on the challenges of adapting to different leadership styles, the importance of accountability, giving and receiving feedback, and how to get guidance from a hands-off manager.

To finish, Greg shares some tangible advice for individuals going into leadership roles. So if you’re in a rush, skip to the bottom for the takeaways.

Otherwise, let’s get into it:

What skills did you gain in the military that have helped your approach to teamwork now?

Well, teamwork. It’s 100% a skill, and one I took away from my time in the military. It was instilled into me during my career.

I would also say discipline was another one, kind of an obvious one. But, in the civilian world, I hadn't realised how short-supply discipline is. If you’ve read any books on productivity, the theme that runs through this is discipline. It’s one I gained in the military, and it’s helped me get to this point in my career.

Adaptability, we learned a lot of that in the military, how to adapt to certain situations, and I think that one has helped me skills-wise too.

I’d also say time management. Being aware of timings and how to start to learn early on helps with planning.

And finally, leadership. Of course, we all get taught that from a young age in the military.

And did these translate seamlessly into your civilian role?

Yeah, I think so, on the whole.

I was used to applying these skills based on different circumstances in the military, I wasn’t set in my ways or anything. I changed my work ethic, read the situation, and applied myself to it.

The only one that needed a bit more effort from me to adapt was communication because it’s hugely different in a civilian team. You’re able to give your input in an equal way, without the rank or hierarchy of the military. I had a lot more decision-making power a lot sooner, despite my lack of role-specific experience.

In civilian roles, have you encountered diverse management styles? How easy was it to adapt?

Yeah, massively so. I had to learn to take on new leadership styles. It's easy to get hung up on something you don’t like, but I just try to focus more on the output and what we trying to achieve; the leadership style is irrelevant, really.

n the military, we've got one very specific leadership style. And the military develops strong characters, so I could have easily clashed a lot with those that were leading me.

It can be humbling if your new manager is younger than you, but you need to swallow that pill. Remember, you’re all after the same thing.

Was there anything surprising about teamwork in a civilian role?

How flat the hierarchy is! If I think back to being very new, or in a job that was at the bottom of the pile, I could easily take authority and lead the whole team if I needed to.

And how do you ensure accountability without relying on the hierarchy you have in the military?

In the beginning, I didn't understand what I was being accountable for. The results are so different to the military, so ask your manager what your KPIs are, and what results you need to hit. Then I’d break that down myself into quarters, months, and weeks. Bite-size chunks, then I’d know if I was falling behind and take action.

Sometimes you might have a manager who doesn’t reach out until things have gone wrong, so if you make it your responsibility to track your performance, you can stay accountable.

How have you found the difference in giving and receiving feedback?

Huge! Those who have led me want to hear my feedback, both positive and negative. It’s been a big learning curve on how to give constructive feedback.

I give them three issues that I see, and then my suggestions for how to solve them. They want you to take ownership when it comes to feedback, which is different to the military.

When it comes to receiving feedback, always ask questions. Like, “What would you like to see when we next catch up?” “What would success look like?”. It’s all about being proactive.

In terms of peer feedback, it’s trickier. Culture is important, so just ask questions and make sure you know what the other person is looking for. It’s very different to the military, where everyone is equal and on the same foot. In the civilian world, you need to not take things to heart, take the best bits of feedback and apply them to your role.

Three steps for translating your experience
  1. Write down what you think you're good at, and be confident in that. If you're not sure, maybe ask one of your muckers or ask someone that you're working with, that can help join the dots.

  2. Start to look at job descriptions and figure out what the different roles want from you. I think a lot of us (men and women who've been in the military) will adapt and change a lot of things to get the job. But actually, it's about knowing which ones you’re best at, that will help your new team the most.

  3. Practice your skills with friends and family, work on an elevator pitch, get away from the cliché stuff and unpick what’s good in your eyes about yourself.
How to move into a leadership role

If you want to move up the ladder and take on a leadership role, it’s not always clear how to do that in a civilian role. Here’s what to do.

Look at your team, and identify where the gaps in the delivery of work are. Then write down:

  1. What you're doing now to contribute to the team?
  2. Where you’d like to be in a year? What you’d like to take on?
  3. How you’re going to prove that you’ll get there, and what you’d like when you do, i.e. a promotion.

Marry the two up to make a clear progression plan and vocalise your ambition to your manager. We wait for permission in the military, but you have to give it to yourself in the civilian world.

Key takeaways:
  1. Military experience provides valuable skills such as teamwork, discipline, adaptability, time management, and leadership.
  2. Translating soft skills from the military to civilian roles requires understanding job descriptions and identifying the skills that align with the role.
  3. Leadership styles in civilian roles can vary, and it is important to focus on productivity and the team's goals rather than personal preferences.
  4. Accountability in a team can be ensured by setting clear targets, breaking them down into manageable tasks, and proactively reporting progress.
  5. Giving and receiving feedback in a civilian setting may require adapting to different communication styles and understanding individual agendas.
  6. Individuals aspiring to leadership roles should identify gaps, set goals, and communicate their aspirations to their managers.

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