General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams will most likely go down as one of the best management books of the century. The book articulates a new vision of management in which all members of an organization view themselves as part of a network of teams that embody a shared sense of common purpose and trust, operate as if no silos existed in order to share information seamlessly, and use decentralized authority (whereby leaders allow subordinates to practice “empowered execution”) to quickly solve complex as well as unpredictable problems.
McChrystal argues that all organizations today must find solutions to complex problems and unpredictability in order to succeed. Ultimately organizations that employ the Team of Teams philosophy will be able to combat complexity and unpredictability through adaptability and resilience.
What makes this a ground-breaking book is the use of both theoretical models of managerial thinking and real world examples. McChrystal did not come up with this managerial philosophy in a vacuum. It was forged during his time leading special operations during the Iraq War. The solutions McChrystal found in response to the challenges the US military confronted in Iraq are woven throughout the book. In each chapter the author will also provide real-world examples from business/organizational history to support his Team of Teams managerial philosophy.
If the Team of Teams philosophy is what we are moving toward what managerial philosophy are we leaving behind?
McChrystal points to Frederick Winslow Taylor’s reductionist managerial philosophy as the mentality that organizations must let go of. What behaviors typify the reductionist managerial philosophy? On pages 42 and 43, McChrystal writes that “Managers did the thinking and planning, while workers executed. No longer were laborers expected to understand how or why things worked- in fact, managers saw teaching them that or paying a premium for their expertise as a form of waste. Taylor told workers, “I have you for your strength and mechanical ability. We have other men paid for thinking.”” The goal of perfect efficiency drove everything in Taylor’s model. Taylor succeeded in utilizing this model in large measure because he worked in an industrial age where it was relatively easy to predict and plan work flows that occurred in regular and consistent cycles.
McChrystal argues in convincing fashion that we live and work in an age of unprecedented unpredictability. In this environment, “Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our central competency (page 20).”
In addition to adaptability, resilience is also needed. As noted on page 78, “In a resilience paradigm managers accept the reality that they will inevitably confront unpredicted threats; rather than erecting strong, specialized defenses , they create systems that aim to roll with the punches, or even benefit from them.” In order to arrive at resilience McChrystal points to a focus not on predictability, but on reconfiguring. On page 82 McChrystal notes that reconfiguring can occur when one recognizes the inevitability of surprises and unknowns and thus builds systems that can survive if not benefit from those surprises.
Here are some of my favorite quotes below:
On page 81, Peter Drucker says, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right thing.”
Page 83, “Our Task Force’s rigid top-to-bottom structure was a product of military history and military culture, and finding ways to reverse the information flow-to ensure that when the bottom spoke the top listened-was one of the challenges we would eventually have to overcome. More difficult, however, was breaching the vertical walls separating the divisions of our enterprise. Interdependence meant that silos were no longer an accurate reflection of the environment: events happening all over were now relevant to everyone.”
One example of an outstanding team-organization are the U.S. Navy SEAL teams.
Page 96, “The purpose of BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training) is not to produce supersoldiers. It is to build superteams.”
Page 97, “The formation of SEAL teams is less about preparing people to follow precise orders than it is about developing trust and the ability to adapt within a small group. … Instructors have constructed a training course that is impossible to survive by executing orders individually.”
Page 98, “Teams whose members know one another deeply perform better.”
Page 98, Harvard Business School teams expert Amy Edmondson explains, “Great teams consist of individuals who have learned to trust each other. Over time, they have discovered each other’s strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to play as a coordinated whole.”
Page 99, “Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose. Only if each of them understands the goal of a mission and the strategic context in which it fits can the team members evaluate risks on the fly and know how to behave in relation to their teammates.”
Page 104, “In situations defined by high levels of interaction, ingenious solutions can emerge in the absence of any single designer.”
Page 105, “Order can emerge from the bottom up, as opposed to being directed, with a plan, from the top down.”
Learning from Tragedy: The change in airline flight management after the crash of United Flight 173 on December 28, 1978 in Portland, Oregon.
On page 106, the National Transportation Safety Board cited as a cause of the crash, “a breakdown in cockpit management and teamwork.”
Page 107, “The crew’s attachment to procedure instead of purpose offers a clear example of the dangers of prizing efficiency over adaptability. McBroom (the pilot of United Flight 173) had attempted to keep track of everything himself, and did not take full advantage of the support offered by his crew.”
Page 108, Risk adaptation occurred when the airline industry was able to, “accept the inevitability of unexpected mechanical failures, and build flexible systems to combat these unknowns.”
What was the solution after the United Flight 173 tragedy?
Page 109, CRM’s “intensive management seminars demanded that participants diagnose their own and others’ managerial styles. It trained juniors to speak more assertively and captains to be less forceful, turning vertical command-and-control relationships into flexible, multidirectional, communicative bonds. Instructors exhausted students with team-building exercises.”
CRM style management was also being formed in the medical profession.
Page 112, “During the Vietnam War military surgeons discovered that moving the lead surgeon away from the patient and having him stand at the foot of the bed during resuscitation and evaluation allowed for more actions to occur simultaneously. This practice made the lead surgeon, in effect, a team player-enabling the problem solving efforts of others, rather than telling them what to do.”
Page 119, “The best teams know their coach (or commander or boss) trusts them to trust each other.”
Page 120, “Teams are messy. Connections crisscross all over the place, and there is lots of overlap: team members track and travel through not only their own specialized territory but often the entire playing field. Trust and purpose are inefficient: getting to know your colleagues intimately and acquiring a whole-system overview are big time sinks; the sharing of responsibilities generates redundancy. But this overlap and redundancy-these inefficiencies- are precisely what imbues teams with high-level adaptability and efficacy.”
Pages 128-129, “But on a team of teams, every individual does not have to have a relationship with every other individual; instead, the relationships between the constituent teams need to resemble those between individuals on a given team.”
Page 141, “The organizational structures we had developed in the name of secrecy and efficiency actively prevented us from talking to each other and assembling a full picture.”
How did NASA get a man on the moon?
By re-inventing its management structure! Enter George Mueller.
Page 147, “Mueller threw out the old org charts and required managers and engineers, who were used to operating in the confines of their own silos, to communicate daily with their functional counterparts at other field centers and on other teams.”
Page 148, “Mueller insisted on daily analyses and quick data exchange. All data were on display in a central control room that had links with automated displays to Apollo field centers. It was the Internet before the Internet: information was updated and shared widely and instantly.”
Page 149, Mueller institutes “systems engineering” or “systems management” an approach built on the foundation of “systems thinking.”
“One cannot understand a part of a system without having at least a rudimentary understanding of the whole. It was the organizational manifestation that imbued NASA with the adaptive, emergent intelligence it needed to put a man on the moon.”
ELDO (European Launcher Development Organization)– It failed because the UK and European Union countries(France, Germany, and Italy) did not work in a collaborative fashion to put a rocket into space. They simply did not communicate effectively.
Page 150, “ELDO teams worked independently, users and manufacturers communicated rarely, and each nation assumed control of a different stage of the rocket. There was no single location for project documentation, no system for providing access to other groups’ documentation, and no specifications for what documentation each entity should produce. Each country managed its part through its own national organization, and each sought to maximize its own economic advantages, which often meant withholding information. Contractors reported only to their national governments.”
Page 159, “How people behave is often a by-product of how we set up physical space.”
Page 167, “The critical first step was to share our own information widely and be generous with our own people and resources. From there, we hoped that the human relationships we built through that generosity would carry the day. Information sharing had to include every part of the force. Our thinking was that the value of this information and the power that came with it were greater the more it was shared. “
Page 174, “There are circumstances in which cooperation is better than competition. Encouragement to collaborate tends to be more of a bumper sticker slogan than an actual managerial practice. In an interdependent environment, however, collaboration may be necessary to survival.”
Page 195, Alan Mulally of Boeing and later Ford is quoted, “Working together always works. It always works. Everybody has to be on the team. They have to be interdependent with one another.”
Page 196, Sandy Pentland, an MIT professor, has found that sharing information and creating strong horizontal relationships improves the effectiveness of everything from businesses to governments to cities.”
Examples include the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain which allows employees to spend up to $2000 to “satisfy guests or deal with situations that arise (page 210).”
Page 212, Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School concludes, “The degree to which the opportunity to use power effectively is granted to or withheld from individuals is one operative difference between those companies which stagnate and those which innovate.”
McChrystal’s decentralized managerial philosophy went something like this (page 214), “”If something supports our effort, as long as it is not immoral or illegal,” you could do it. Soon, I found that the question I most often asked my force was “What do you need?” “
Page 214, “On the whole, our initiative-which we call “empowered execution” met with tremendous success. Decisions came more quickly, critical in a fight where speed was essential to capturing enemies and preventing attacks. More important, and more surprising, we found that, even as speed increased and we pushed authority further down, the quality of decisions actually went up.”
Page 216, “In the old model, subordinates provided information and leaders disseminated commands. We reversed it: we had our leaders provide information so that subordinates, armed with context, understanding, and connectivity, could take the initiative and make decisions.”
Page 225, “I began to view effective leadership in the new environment as more akin to gardening than chess. The gardener cannot actually “grow” tomatoes, squash, or beans-she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so.”
Page 226, “Leading as a gardener meant that I kept the Task Force focused on clearly articulated priorities by explicitly talking about them and by leading by example. It was impossible to separate my words and my actions, because the force naturally listened to what I said, but measured the importance of my message by observing what I actually did. If the two were incongruent, my words would be seen as meaningless pontifications.”
Page 228, “”Thank you” became my most important phrase, interest and enthusiasm my most powerful behaviors. For a younger member of the command, even if the brief had been terrible, I would compliment the report.”
Page 232, “The leader’s first responsibility is to the whole. A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams. Instead of exploiting technology to monitor employee performance at levels that would have warmed Frederick Taylor’s heart, the leader must allow team members to monitor him. More than directing, leaders must exhibit personal transparency. This is the new deal.”
Page 248, “Management determines the quality of the world we live in.”