Dream Teams

A friend was telling me about “Dream Teams” at Netflix and I realized that is exactly what I have been trying to build/encourage around me. That is what I want!


I am always studying something. Sometimes it’s technical, sometimes it’s leadership, sometimes it’s business. Sometimes it’s another language (Spanish) which I am absolutely terrible at.

Right now, technically, I am studying a lot to answer the question “How does one test complex video quality and distributed systems automatically and cost-effectively?” Personally I am studying for my Ham Radio license (which I have said I would get since I was a Navy ET on a Nuclear Submarine in the 1980s). Back then Nuclear Power ETs had to take the same core schools and advancement tests as the “radio ETs” so once upon a time I was actually quite “heavy” in all that. It’s astonishing how much of it all I actually remember too. But I digress.

I always study leadership. I’m always watching and thinking about how to lead better. Who do I look up to and admire? How do they do it? I am blessed with some really good mentors who are in that category. So when an old friend who I’d not spoken to in awhile mentioned the Netflix culture and how they aspire to build “Dream Teams” I checked it out.

No, it’s not the NBA version of a dream team

Not This Dream Team!

What is a Dream Team?

The best way to describe it is to quote them:

A dream team is one in which all of your colleagues are extraordinary at what they do and highly effective working together. Our version of a great workplace is not great perks, although we have many. It’s about investing in a dream team of talented people who are excited to pursue ambitious shared goals. On our dream team we encourage collaboration, share information and discourage politics. There’s lots of love and there are demanding peers. It’s exhilarating and how we learn the most, do our best work, improve the fastest and have the most fun.

The whole Netflix Culture resonates with everything in my being. I may write more about it later.

I didn’t know the term, but DREAM TEAMS are what I often talk about. I’ve had that a few times and I constantly am trying to get it again.

The first time I experienced it was on a Nuclear Submarine. You can’t get more Dream Team. The very real risk of everyone dying forces a new and crystal clear approach: don’t just be the best you can be, be better. And make everyone around you that good. And then get better. There’s no feeling like being on a team that is THAT GOOD. I recently blogged about how that excellence is built. It does not happen by accident. The short version is: go read this book!

Operational Excellence book cover

In the civilian world I’ve chased that feeling at every job I’ve had. What I did in the Navy was far more intense than anything I will do in business. I can’t expect to have that same driving force and the whole environment is different. But the principles are the same, and the FEELING is the same. And the results are strikingly the same.

The last few years I’ve tried to explain this to folks I am hiring. But I use way too many words to describe it. Often I say “I want to build a team that in 10 years still gets together for a meal or drink to catch up and share time.” Yes, that’s one aspect. That’s the “lots of love” part.

I’ve pre-ordered an amazing-looking book by former US Navy Submarine Commander Dr. “Navy Bob” Roncska. The book is Beyond the Sea: Leading with Love from the Nuclear Navy to the White House and Healthcare. These topics are resonating with me a lot I guess.

But what I am seeking is also the “all colleagues are extraordinary at what they do” part. I’ll go even further and say it’s all about the three things that Engineers want:

  • to build something
  • that actually helps people
  • that actually gets used

In sports it’s all about winning. In Engineering it’s more than just winning. Or, maybe it’s that the definition of winning is larger. It’s those three key accomplishments as well.

So I find myself reflecting a lot. My wife asked me recently “what do you really want?”

I want to be on a Dream Team accomplishing those three key things.

And that’s how I’m going to talk about it from here on out.

Back to Learning

Recently I have been in an uncomfortable place, and I realized this week some of what is going on. If you read my blog at all you know I admire and respect the accomplishments of Admiral Rickover (Father of the Nuclear Navy). He said:

“Success teaches us nothing; only failure teaches.”

I’m getting some teaching lately! Mostly around how I approach leadership under challenging conditions, and what I actually do about it.

But I am not going to beat myself up. I love this graphic about the PROCESS of learning:

Credit: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Non-Linear-Learning-not-only-in-the-Classroom-Accordingly-the-Figure-3-Learning-Map-was_fig4_374509814

Learning is most certainly non-linear. The most important thing can sometimes be the “Pause and Reflect” part. Which is where I am at today.

The one thing I don’t like about that graphic is the “End” circle. You never stop learning. Well, maybe you do. When you’re dead.

I’m not dead yet! So I will keep learning. It’s actually one of my key personal core values: never stop learning.

And what I have learned this week is that I want to be on a Dream Team. So what I need to do is focus on that and make it happen.