Leaders: Make Your Teams More Agile, Creative, and United

– Al Qaeda in Iraq really intersected with the rise in the information age and so, suddenly, they were able to leverage video, they were able to leverage cell phones, the internet, so that they could create an effect in one part of Iraq and suddenly get value from that action in a place like Mosul almost instantaneously. So what it allowed them to do with this networked approach, almost franchised like approach, was to be very agile, very lethal, and constantly adapt it. And so we found that, against that foe, our traditional efficiency, as good as it was, wasn’t enough. (gentle music) We changed our structure to create a true team of teams, not a single team commanded by a hierarchical leader, but a team of teams that were networked together that it had an organic relationship underpinned by something we call shared consciousness, which is this shared contextual understanding of everything that’s happening and everything we’re trying to do, and then that empowers people, small teams and individuals at lower levels, to make decisions on their own. Because we found that, in today’s environment where things are so much faster and interconnected, you have to make decisions close to the point of action because that’s where people understand what’s happening and that’s where they can operate fast enough to be relevant. (gentle music) When we first came into this situation in Iraq, we wondered whether it was unique to war or unique to that particular situation, but what we found is it wasn’t really a cause of Al Qaeda and Iraq being special. They were focused and they were dedicated and they were pretty good. But in reality, it was the environment which we’d run into. And it was the two factors. It was this vastly increased speed, physical speed, but more than that, the speed of digits and information moving, and also the interconnectedness of everything. And what that produced was a situation in which complexity ruled the day. And what I mean by complexity, that the basic quality here is not that it’s complicated, that’s different. It’s complex to the point where things are not predictable. And when things are not predictable and uncertainty rules the day, adaptability becomes the coin of the realm. As we studied this and we went to businesses, we found that the speed and interconnectedness and the resulting complexity are exactly what businesses and other organizations face today. Those 19th and 20th century organizations that look good on organization charts that have silos, they have set processes and checklists, are fine to create organization in a predictable environment and they can be very, very efficient, but they’re far too ponderous and far too slow and far too able to agilely change with constant shifting seas in today’s environment, and so today’s businesses and organizations that don’t make this kind of shift find themselves vulnerable to those who automatically have. (gentle music) If you think of a small team, four, five, six people, you have shared consciousness automatically. You can finish each other’s sentences. You know what each other’s thinking because you’re just integrated so closely that you’ll constantly see the same things, make the same decisions. Once you get big, that’s very different, and so, suddenly, the challenge is how do you create contextual understanding so that the people in human resources know what products the people in R & D are trying to build, the people in sales know what customers need and can link that back to Research and Development. And across the battlefield, we found that all of our little teams couldn’t operate effectively unless they knew what was happening in real time, in the big picture. Now this was all theoretically interesting, but until about 15 years ago, it was also unattainable because we just didn’t have the information technology that allowed us to push and pull information that quickly to do it. And so what we did, we created all the linkages, and I don’t mean just put phone lines in that you pick up when you got something particular. I’m talking about a flow of information like the arteries in a body. It flows constantly. And that information passes what’s happening, it passes queries, it passes best practices, it passes a lot of other seemingly less important information, sort of contextual background, then enriches a person’s understanding, like they’re marinating in an understanding of the situation all the time. In Joint Special Operations Command, the tool we used was a video teleconference ’cause I think they’re much more powerful than just telephones or emails or whatnot because you get personal interaction. We started with 50 people in it every day. We graduated to having 7,500 people in it every day for 90 minutes. And the idea was essentially getting the entire command able every day to go into the quarterback’s huddle, hear what worked on the last play, hear what they’re thinking on the next play, know the status in the game, be prepared to execute. It allowed us not to then have to elevate decisions later. If you’re in the conversation, you hear what happened in another place, you know the decision process that went on, the rationale that underpinned it. When that situation, or something even similar, arose in an area, a subordinate element or leader didn’t have to go up for guidance. They said okay, I understand the context, this is what we have to do, and they would simply decide. (gentle music) Another organization may have a different, we call it a battle rhythm or an operating rhythm, a different rhythm that’s appropriate for them. For some organizations we’ve worked with, once a week, the CEO will gather a large organization like this, they’ll have an agenda that they follow, but it will be an organic conversation that includes basic updates, but it’s not the sterile update to the boss that we sometimes think about, a list of numbers and everybody sits tightly and can’t wait till it’s over. This is some updates, but also some more detailed background information that gives a sense for what’s happening. The key is to understand that the goal is this shared consciousness. The goal is to create in everyone not just a sense that they know what’s going on, but also this ownership, this link, this idea that you are in what’s happening, you are part owner to the outcome that’s so important to all modern businesses. (gentle music)

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