Team of teams
Team of teams
Recently I read a book called Team of Teams, a New Rule of Engagement for a Complex World written by McChrystal, Collins, Silverman and Fussel (2015). The book describes how to lead and to become organized in today’s world. The Team of Teams introduces a new perspective reflecting its idea on the US Army Special Forces and their idea of “team teams”. Instead of being hierarchical organizations, the teams create a creative community and network, where the most important values are trust, free flow of ideas, shares consciousness and sharing decision making power. The key idea behind the “team of teams” is the speed and ability to adapt to the present “chaotic” operational environment. What is most interesting behind the idea of the “team of teams” is that the new perspective comes from the military context, which we associate to a very hierarchical and commanding organization culture.
The book tells about Stanley McChrystal, who works as a commander in Iraq. His troops fought against Al-Qaeda in the early 2000s. In the war, McCrystal noticed that the troops underperformed even though they were the best-resourced, trained to the top and equipped with the world’s highest technology. To succeed in the battles, the troops had to adopt faster analysis, adaptability and responsivity skills. Now the troops were too slow in situations that happened unexpectedly. The reason behind the underachievement was traditional, hierarchical organization culture.
Waking up to the modern world?
Although the book relies heavily on experiences of war, its focus is on organizational change. Despite the insuperability and task-force of the US troops, Al-Qaeda had its advantages. According to the Taylorian tradition, the task force was a military organization where everyone only took care of the task they were given.
The opposing organization, Al-Qaeda, did not follow the same tradition. Instead, many of their operators formed a network and structure, where the technological information sharing and transmission were so effective that their troops were constantly one step ahead of the others. Thanks to fast-developing technology, the information was moving so fast that the battles were no longer the same as they used to be something had to be done. For the US troops to overcome such an agile enemy, they had to shift their focus from efficiency to adaptability. McChrystal led his troops to transform into a network that combined solid communication, that is, shared consciousness and decentralized leadership, so-called “authorized execution”. So the solution was to build a network of teams to fight against other teams: “team of teams”.
Team of teams
For the US Forces to build a network, they had to make big operational changes. This required a major cultural change. Information had to be shared openly within the organization, and the main goal was to create a shared consciousness so that there were no longer specific information keepers and holders. To achieve this, the team members must share, rather too much than too little, their knowledge. In summary, the idea behind the “team of teams” is that the team members actively work together and interact with each other. To do this, McChrystal developed a variety of models where the team members had to work together. He also created collaboration between the teams, which served a common purpose. He created a team that was composed of many teams.
McChrystal commanded individuals, from different parts of the organization, to the same missions to build relationships and thereby understand and build shared trust. Each group had to find personal contact, experience and trust in another group member. So the essence of everything was to create agility and adaptability: because it is impossible to predict the future, we need to be able to react fast to the unexpected, and to be agile we need to share knowledge and collaborate.
To achieve the same changes as the US army, the same questions of how teams operate need to be considered. In the world of rapid changes, the very best organizations behave and think like the “team teams”, a group of teams. These teams combine the freedom to explore and will to share knowledge.
In the book, McChrystal and his colleagues helped organizations adopt this model by providing research and examples from emergency centers and NASA’s Operations Control Center. The problem of precisely targeted communication is that the crucial piece of information might not reach the person who needs it. Therefore McChrystal et al. started adding as many recipients as possible to the cc field of emails, preferred loudspeakers when answering phone calls so that others could hear what was discussed, and even designed open spaces for the troops to facilitate interaction. Offshore offices are thus ideal spaces for rapid information sharing.
After these changes, it was time to distribute the decision-making power to lower hierarchical levels. In addition to a shared consciousness, trust and common goal, teams needed to operate faster and more effectively. Responsibility needed to be shared: the enemy did now wait for the commander to accept the propositions from the lower hierarchical levels.
The book describes how McChrystal realized, from the point of view of successful operations, that especially in war every minute mattered. McChrystal realized that the team, that had been following the enemy very closely, had a much better and more comprehensive perspective in decision-making than he, a commander who had the formal decision-making power. Therefore, it was justifiable to delegate more decision making power to the team.
Nowadays, changes happen much faster in our environment than before. The changes are unpredictable and we must react them quickly: the rhythm of events is fast and cause-effect relationships cannot be predicted or seen as clearly as before.
Decision-making became much more effective, and even better, than before. McChrystal comments that the highest level of hierarchy might not hold the best comprehension of the issue or situation at hand. I have become familiar with this perspective in my current studies. The book is discusses empowerment that follows shared understanding and trust. When the decision making power was decentralized, it also increased motivation and quality and speed of decision making.
McChrystal’s thesis is that a leader is a gardener, that is, his job is to create and maintain the conditions necessary for growth, while the only thing the plants need to do is grow. The gardener can watch, but not touch. The leader cherishes the ecosystem.
The role and purpose of leadership change radically when decision-making power is lowered to the team level. It is the job of the leaders to create appropriate conditions for the networks to operate and practitioners to work. In this model, the leadership roles are interaction, encouragement, and bringing the right people together. The leader guides the team as a whole toward a shared vision and building a “unity”.
The book addresses themes of self-direction, hierarchical organization and modern leadership. These themes constantly come up in today’s conversations. In today’s complex world, values, trust, transparency, interaction, digitalization, knowledge sharing, and utilization, in particular, are strongly emphasized. Indeed, in a chaotic world, work is still heavily based on networks built around hierarchical organization models. However, we are moving towards a model that, for example, some IT companies, such as Vincit, currently use. Such companies have completely abandoned the hierarchy in their organizations.
The book was interesting and full of perspectives that are really popular discussion topics right now.
During my reading, I realized many times how great it is to study at ProAcademy: we have discussed these topics for long. It was great to discover that we have already been using these models in our leadership techniques, but yet I was able to find new tools for supporting more open communication, for example. In a very interesting way, the book provided good practical examples of leadership and organizational operations from the military context. I could strongly recommend Team of Teams to people who are interested in modern management models and ever-increasing, non-hierarchical organizational operations.
The book engrossed the reader and was clear and easy to understand. It is a great book for developing your business development and your management style.