To be successful, you have to first build your 'squad'

 Athletes form a huddle. Camylla Battani on Unsplash

A solid squad of partners should include people who add unique perspectives. Image: Camylla Battani/ Unsplash

Algirde Pipikaite
Lead, Strategic Initiatives, World Economic Forum Geneva
Summer Craze Fowler
Adjunct Faculty, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
Yael Nagler
Corporate Cyber Risk Expert, The Cantellus Group
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  • Squads, Richard Branson said, are “the missing link... between a promising business person and a successful business person”.
  • Four decades of scientific study have confirmed the benefits of squads.
  • Squads help you look beyond the blockers that hide the many options available.

A key component of individual success is not individual at all - it is the support from your "squad," your very own personal committee that helps you achieve your own goals. In the words of Mark Twain: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you can be great.”

Squads are composed of people with varied experiences, strengths and capabilities. These support networks have been recognized for their benefits in business - with Richard Branson noting that mentoring and support are “the missing link ... between a promising business person and a successful business person.”

Have you read?

The concept of squads is not new, and science confirms their importance and impact. Social Resource Theory has evolved over the past four decades and studies the use and benefits of not just personal resources, but resources that are available to us via our social networks. A squad is a key part of your social resources - allowing you to supplement your personal knowledge and experiences with those of your squad members.

So how do you build your squad and how do you know if it is the right group to support your goals?

Whether you are building, expanding or cultivating your squad, consider who is a part of it. Just as diversity is critical in other aspects of your life, your squad should include people who add unique perspectives. Think of your squad as your personal toolkit: A kit that includes only hammers or wrenches will be far less effective than one with a wider variety of tools!


How do we design a squad?

Having some squad members in your field is important. There's something special about being able to talk to someone who not only understands your work but is able to provide share similar experiences.

Your squad needn’t be made up entirely of people within your existing organization, and it needn’t be made up of peers or those occupying reciprocal relationships to yours. It is helpful to have at least one squad member in your current organization who understands your company's culture, its office politics, as well as your role. A friend or professor from college or a former colleague or boss could be in your squad. The idea for this article came when the authors realized that they had become a part of one another's squads. Summer Fowler, CIO at Argo AI, notes: “When Yael introduced the idea, I immediately thought that everyone would benefit from having someone like her in their squad. She helps me navigate a room before I enter it!”

In addition to a variety of professional perspectives, your squad can offer unique personal insight. We all have blind spots where we lack awareness about ourselves. Your squad will recognize both your strengths and weaknesses, even those you may not even realize you have. When building your squad, think about the types of voices that you need to hear. What are the things that your squad will be saying to you that will propel you forward? Will they be challenging you? Keeping you in check? Agreeing with you? Here are a few different types of people to consider.

“You can do this!”

Everyone needs to have at least one person who believes in you (who is not their mother). Such supporters encourage you to tackle new challenges and enable you to visualize your own success. These are fantastic people to have in your squad because their encouragement and support are unconditional and build your confidence.

“Have you considered you could also ...?”

A squad member who brings a different perspective but who knows you and supports you is an invaluable asset. Our most common blocker is not seeing different options. Invite this person to consider the situation you’re facing – their point of view may unlock options you had not seen before. Thinking out loud with them might provide you with outcomes that you hadn’t imagined.

“Have you thought about when this happens?”

A person with analytical thinking who is willing to share their feedback is a strong addition to any squad. They will ensure you are questioning the outcome, the results, the steps and invite you to be creative in your solutions. This is the person who helps you see around corners so that you can be confident about both the decision and the potential outcomes.

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Self-doubt often holds us back. Someone who challenges and draws out our own fears helps us to overcome them. The person naturally says, “what’s the worst that can happen?” They also have considered that the downside is probably less severe than you may think. Explore with them, and allow them to question you. When you are not afraid of failure, you get closer to taking that next step toward your success.

“What would you need to do first and when?”

When it is time to take action, this squad member, with a “get it done” attitude, unlocks the action plan for you. Whatever the destination, they see a path and know how to break down the distance to success. Having an action-oriented ‘doer’ in your squad unlocks one of our biggest challenges – knowing how to get started and outlining the first several steps.

“You’ve gone too far. Slow it down.”

Someone who knows you well, and is not afraid to point out your mistakes, is a very important part of any squad. We need at least one person who is not afraid to call us out or tell us to pause or take a step back.

Where do you start in building your squad?

First, reflect. Most likely you already have a squad. Who are the people who you go to and who share your dreams and ambitions? Who do you lean on when you need to vent? Once you identify them, curate your squad based on the voices that you need to succeed.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d started cultivating my squad as early as high school and then throughout college and my first jobs. All throughout the way, I had work friends. And friends I turned to for support and advice. It was just a mindset shift”, said Yael Nagler.

It’s ok if you don’t get the list perfect. Relationships are not static. This also means that your squad will evolve over time - just as you will.

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