Team of Teams

By April 13, 2020No Comments

Thanks in large part to the Covidian era, we’re Zooming (or other choice of video conference) daily. Knowing how well, or not, these interactions go, imagine yourself joining a 7,000-person (yes that’s the right number of zeros, seven thousand) video conference.

You’ve joined to gain the most up-to-date information possible on the lay of the land, to make real-time decisions on how you will execute today’s plan with a clear line-of-sight to the ultimate objective – to win.

Everyone who needs to speak, will. Everyone who needs to contribute to the decision-making process, will. Everyone will take from this meeting clear and aligned messaging and information, to enact their plans and to permeate their own networks where appropriate.

And you will hear the most senior person in this 7,000-person ‘room’ address geographically distant, front-line workers, by their first name, even knowing their home town and any other curious facts.

Oh, and it will be over in 90 minutes.

Welcome to the ‘Daily Operations & Intelligence Meeting’ (O&I) chaired by Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Taskforce in Afghanistan.

“Yeah, not interesting in military examples” I hear you say. Don’t be put off, I’d argue that this story is relevant to all large organisations, in fact it would benefit all leaders of people, formal or not.

The challenge in question for McChrystal was “how will we move at a pace that could give us the chance of winning, in an increasingly complex world?”.

Complexity driven in part by the market they were playing in – fighting networked terrorist organisations who could create an unpredictable atrocity anywhere in the world, at any moment – and the layers of bureaucracy across the consortium of organisations whom their success depend upon.

Suffice to say, it was no short journey. McChrystal had to get some runs on the board and play the long game.

Pushing decision-making authority as low as possible and giving context to enable better decisions.

McChrystal shares his realisation that he is constantly being asked to make decisions about situations he knows less about than those who are asking him. So he set about enabling his people to make the decisions they were best placed to make but ensured that they were given as much context as possible, for example, asking questions like ‘do they understand the implications of this decision on the mission and others involved?’, if not, there is a prime opportunity to elevate awareness so that they may make more timely and more impactful decisions.

Connecting with people, as people.

In the O&I meeting that McChrystal would address front-line workers by first name and have knowledge about where they were from and any other curious facts. McChrystal recognised the impacts on morale from these micro opportunities to recognise people as people, and as a result to nurture trust and psychological safety. He pushed this a whole lot further by putting himself right at the front-line when he knew parts of the operation were doing it particularly tough – he was right there with them so that he would really understand what was going on and demonstrate his commitment and leadership through his action.

Giving your best people to other parts of the organisation.

In the long-run McChrystal knew it would be critical to create deeper trust across parts of the broader organisation, in his case, often involving entirely different agencies and in various countries. By embedding his best people in strategically important parts of these organisations they were able to establish deep and lasting relationships that set increased synergy and trust, ultimately enabling better and faster courses of action.

This post is a work in progress, seeking to share our perspective with you as we can, rather than when we’re ready! Come back periodically to check for more or fill in the form below for updates on this page and related posts.

For those interested in diving in to the book, here it is on Amazon.