Teamwork is a part of my professional life for the last 20 years. In roles from a team member, team leader, to manager and mentor I had an opportunity to observe different team setups as well as different team dynamics and how it influences the final result.

I have always been curious about these hidden influences behind how things work. Especially behind the teamwork. This led me to interest in US NAVY SEALS team fundaments many years ago. Inside the SEALS team can be found many interesting points and answers to the question “why our team is not working quite well…” For a long time I thought to myself that there is nothing out there to surprise me in the field of teamwork. And then I came across the concept of Simon Sinek. And suddenly puzzle clicked together.

Team spirit and Human Animal

In anthropology and biology, you can find a concept of Human-Animal. It’s that part of human being, a residuum of evolution, which working behind the scenes so we as species:

  • Not starving or die from hunger
  • Evolve ourselves and improve as a race,
  • Conserve our genus – reproduction

The same part takes care of immediate reaction in a situation “fight or run”.

Time changed since we lived in flocks. Not so our mental equipment.

Our body incites us to behave to do “the right things”. It uses chemical stimuli, exactly the same way as it did hundreds of years ago. Different time, but the same stimulus. Chemicals influence us to feel what we feel, to react the way we react without consciously knowing it. Yup, we’re junkies. All of us. Yes, you too!

We can recognize two types of such a drug:

  • Selfish   its purpose is to make us find food, to finish projects we started and to improve our life
  • Non-selfish  makes us get along with each other, cooperate, be loyal to the group and stimulate attraction to the opposite sex ( well, it’s topic for different article…)

The most known selfish drug is ENDORPHIN. Our personal opiate. Its original purpose is to suppress physical pain to build up physical endurance. All runners know how it feels to be high on endorphin. That’s why they are doing it again and again, right? The result is that they become more physically durable. And that’s what our human-animal, dealer of that dope,  wants. Sneaky, isn’t it?
An interesting fact is, that endorphin suppresses fear. We get it also when we smile. As a result, we can’t smile and feel scared at the same time.


Second, an even more important selfish drug is DOPAMINE. You probably know that great feeling when you find what you are looking for. When you do what you are supposed to do – the right thing. When you finish the project. Then you know what dopamine rush is about. This is how our human animal stimulates us to continue and persist to do what it considers right. There are two problems with dopamine. We’re getting a dose also when we eat.

Team spirit dope

But non-selfish drugs have the most significant influence on teamwork.

SEROTONIN is a so-called leadership drug. We can identify the situation when we’re “under the influence” when we feel proud, we feel the strike of power sensing affection of others, recognition our importance for the group.

Why we just don’t send graduation diploma, recognition, decoration by mail but we organize ceremonies for all of that?

Because we want to feel or give a dose of serotonin. What is absolutely great on serotonin is, that during a graduation ceremony, not only the person who graduates feels the serotonin. Also, his/her parents and relatives in the audience do. Cool, isn’t it? And what about that feeling when we check our social network posts and we can see many likes there? Yup, serotonin.


OXYTOCIN – “the chemical love”. It induces a feeling of deep confidence. We have a pleasant feeling when we are with someone. A Little drop of oxytocin. We spend more time with him/her, feel more affection. More drops of oxytocin. We feel a stronger bond with that person. Following that spiral, we develop trust.

Again, there is something extra here. A dosage of oxytocin is given to not only the person who does something selfless but also somebody who just witnessed such an act. Oxytocin makes us better people.

One stimulant our little human animals use doesn’t belong to any of the categories. It’s CORTISOL—sometimes called the “stress hormone.” Its purpose is to activate our senses in a “fight or flight” situation. The dosage of cortisol keeps us in tension.
The side effect is a reduction of oxytocin production and “redundant systems” shutdown. Unfortunately, our immunity is assessed as unnecessary. Shutting down immunity means disease. Can you hear it clicking? Fear – cortisol – switch of immunity – illness.


Let’s go even further. Our inner human animal is a very social creature. It wants us to be a part of the community, to take care of each other because this kind of behavior increases chances of survival. Does it ring a bell? Serotonin + Oxytocin.

Build a Circle of safety

Well known pyramid of Maslow has a need for safety on the second level, immediately on top of basic needs. It means no safety – no social needs, no friendship, far from self-actualization. And no cooperation at all.
Fear keeps us think of ourselves first, watch our back all the time. It induces tension. Cortisol! Low oxytocin! This is why building a “Circle of safety” is an important duty of every leader.

maslow hierarchy

It is a mental concept that defines who is in (member of the team) and who is out (all others = threat, danger). Inside the circle, people don’t have to watch their back, fight each other, to be afraid of betrayal. They can focus on the fight against outside threats and … on cooperation!

Already in ancient Sparta, they recognized this concept. “Come back with your shield or on it!” was a phrase used by Spartan warriors. You’re coming back dead carried on your shield, or you return with it. You can lose your spear because it’s your protection, but never lose your shield because it’s a part of group protection. Every shield counts. The enemy can take advantage of every weak spot in the defense and defeat us.

US NAVY SEALS have, according to experts, the hardest training in the world. Only a few of the most durable guys finish it every year. Training is targeted, contrary to what most people think, to create bonds among the operators and to consciousness about dependence on each other. Only the group can succeed. During the training, very strong bonds are created among the men. Example of Circle of safety per se.
After completing the whole curriculum of training, those who didn’t ring that known bell receive the Trident.

At that ceremony, you could smell serotonin. A lot of it. Trident is a sign of something they call “brotherhood”. Lots and lots of oxytocin. And they mean it. When one of the brothers is killed at the funeral ceremony, every member of the platoon nails his Trident to the coffin with his fist. Bum. Bum. Bum.

Leaders eat last

I like examples from the fighting environment. If something works for warriors, where life is the price of failure, then it should be OK for business. The price here is definitely not that high if we face the truth.

In the end, one example from Sinek’s book Leaders eat last.

In the Navy, leaders eat only after all marines are fed. It’s not purposeless. It shows a very important principle. Why are they doing so?

To be a leader is not for free. The price of leadership is a willingness to put the needs of others over leaders own needs.

Only an authentic leader is able to create a wide Circle of safety in which all these drugs operate to support success. Not only business success. The success of the team itself, as well as the success of every particular member.