The Battle Trance Concept: Enforcing Collective Identity in Your Workplace Team

“Within this moment I am for you, though better men have failed/I will give my life for love, for I am winterborn./And in my dying, I’m more alive than I have ever been/I will make this sacrifice, for I am winterborn.”
Winterborn, by American rock band The Crüxshadows

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The Battle Trance Concept: Enforcing Collective Identity in Your Workplace Team

The Battle Trance Concept: Enforcing Collective Identity in Your Workplace Team by Laura Stack #productivity

Recently, I ran across the battle trance concept: an idea well known in the military environment where I grew up, but only recently defined in psychology. Essentially, it involves the subsuming of one’s individual identity into the collective identity of a group. The group acts almost as a single organism that feels no fear or pain, where individuals willingly sacrifice for others, fighting for something “bigger and more important than their own life.” Members can be conditioned to go into battle trance instantly, or via ritualistic activities.

The usefulness of this concept is obvious in any military organization, where experts call the psychological strength necessary to cross this line morale, esprit de corps, or fighting spirit. For the last few centuries, organized militaries have made deliberate efforts to generate the factors that trigger battle trance, deliberately breaking down young men and rebuilding them in the desired mold. Drilling, cadence songs, battle cries, even communal drumming, drinking, dancing and, more recently, listening to electronic and heavy metal music have become common for soldiers preparing for battle.

In military practice, battle trance has a long and glorious history: from The Three Hundred at Thermopylae and the ancient Norse berserkers, on through modern military heavy-metal dance parties. But can we adapt this strategy to business, as has happened so often with other military approaches?

Civilized Warfare 

As Don Henley once pointed out, “A man with a briefcase case can steal more money/than any man with a gun.” Pundits have routinely compared business to war, in lights both positive and negative, and some practitioners read Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War to prepare themselves for the business arena. Even calling business an “arena” is telling, because it reveals the widespread assumption that success in business inevitably requires conflict, if not the willingness to wage a form of war upon others.

Anything that can improve group cohesiveness has a place on a business team—assuming you can avoid its negative repercussions. We must direct the us-vs.-them orientation inherent to battle trance outward—ideally outside the organization—something completely counter to holding internal competitions. Sales organizations often to this believing they can improve sales across the board. If such competition takes hold within a team, however, it can cause dissention in the ranks.

Tapping Into Battle Trance Psychology

While Winterborn is a catchy tune, I suspect few managers would pipe it over the PA system, or organize dance parties to take advantage of battle trance. Nor will war cries ever really catch on in the white collar environment. However, we can use some elements of the battle trance concept to merge into more cohesive groups whose members more readily “take one for the team.” This means everyone participates, including leadership. It means they roll up their sleeves when times are tough. It means we all pitch in and help each other during crunch times. It means you know your team members have your back.

Special retreats emphasizing the value of the team itself, rather than its goals or individual members, may help, if sincerely meant and performed more often than once every few years. Group performance reviews, pep rally-type events, celebrations of team awesomeness, honest and emphatic appreciation of the team and its members, unexpected bonuses, and, yes, team parties—ideally held during work hours, so everyone can attend and get paid—can all work as means of tapping into the civilian version of battle trance.

All this said, leaders must still value the individual gifts workers bring to the table, as their specialized skill sets are valuable to you. In any case, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to bind your workers so tightly to the team that they’ll completely lose sight of their own needs in favor of the group effort, as happens with some military units. Workers aren’t warriors. But do make sure everyone has what they need to feel like a full member of the team—and push the value of the team itself to the limit with your rallying battle cry!

On LinkedIn:

The Shadow Knows: Tapping Job Shadowing to Cover Critical Tasks

Missing in Action: Coordinating with a Boss Always Out of the OfficeThese days, roles in most white-collar teams have become so specialized, no single person can learn everything needed to keep the team’s work processes running smoothly. Usually, the team lead has a good idea of the overall structure, but leaders have their own roles to play. A good leader hires for at least a slight overlap of skill sets, so the team can survive if a crucial team member falls ill, goes on vacation, or abruptly quits.Read More on LinkedIn.

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Tune in this week as Laura talks about Reducing Your Reading Pile.

© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.