Sunday, March 28, 2021

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal is a solid read subtitled New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World from the retired four-star U.S. General written with Dave Silverman, Chris Fussell, and Tantum Collins.

The book covers from when McChrystal in the Middle East in 2004 commanding the Joint Operations Task Force fighting Al Qaeda. Team of Teams notes early on how the Task Force had to evolve to match up with the terrorist group that was able to quickly shape shift as it lacked a standard hierarchy. McChrystal writes how the Task Force by 2008 transformed into a nimble and more effective organization, and his last assignment before his 2010 retirement from the military was as the four-star commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. 

The Task Force had to become more decentralized, with information freely shared and decisions able to be made quickly by many. McChrystal details how his forces had to take the characteristics of effective teams and then figure out how to create a team of teams, one with bonds between different teams. 

McChrystal details how something that had a large impact on creating this newly nimble organization where information shared freely was through the O&I, the Operations and Intelligence brief. He changed it from in 2003 being a small teleconference between a few different offices and bases to an important daily checkpoint and chance to share information. Investments were made in technology so it could be joined from around the globe and it given a strict schedule, occurring six days a week at 9:00AM EST and was never cancelled. The meeting acquired a daily rhythm, and McChrystal as the leader used it to model the behavior he wanted to see. To have people view the O&I as important, he had to demonstrate that he viewed it as important. He would always take the meeting in uniform against a plywood backdrop and writes in the book how he would stay focused, knowing that if he came across on camera as not engaged, that would signal to others they could do the same. Additionally, when someone would come onto the meeting to give an update, McChrystal would make a point of greeting people (often well below him in the hierarchy) by first name, and then thanking them after they finished and asking a question to reinforce that he was paying attention to their presentation. He avoided any type of sarcasm in the O&I, especially since it can be particularly damaging in a large meeting. 

A primary goal of the O&I was information sharing and by him sharing information with other teams that would join, it then led those teams to share. The meeting became the fusion of operations and intelligence that its name indicates and McChrystal writes that the positive consequences of liberal information sharing far outweighed the negatives. He also covers how they also had an embedding program, putting one person on a different team for six months, including taking field operators and putting them in intelligence roles, with those efforts leading to a more holistic understanding throughout the organization, people knowing what was going on. It was impossible for everyone to know everyone, but everyone needed to know someone on every team. Another term he used is shared consciousness, with it coming from strict, centralized forums for communication, extreme transparency, and the decentralization of managerial authority. Decision-making was pushed down the chain, no longer held at the top as once there shared consciousness throughout the org, decisions no longer need to be held for the top. The title of one of the later chapters of the book is Leading like a Gardener and McChrystal writes in it about that approach and fostering an environment for success. 

Also covered in Team of Teams is how systems need to be set up for adaptability, as what’s important is a structure, not a plan. You need to be able to adapt and not attached to procedure as procedures don't always work. He writes of commercial airline disasters caused in large part by pilots simply following procedure and not listening to other crew members. From these types of situations came Crew Resource Management in airline cockpits and McChrystal relates the positive stories of United Flight 232 in 1989 that had the plane's steering mechanism get destroyed in-flight and the crew working together to deal with the calamity and US Airways Flight 1549 that landed on the Hudson River in New York. Other stories in the book are about how Brigham and Women's Hospital treated victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the SEAL snipers who saved Captain Phillips alongside the Maersk Alabama after the ship hijacked. It was a good book with compelling stories.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

A Shot in the Moonlight by Ben Montgomery

A Shot in the Moonlight by Ben Montgomery is an excellent book that recounts the story of George Dinning and has the subtitle How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Solider Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South.

The book jacket notes how Dinning in 1897 became the first Black man in the South to beat a lynch mob in court. Dinning was from Southwestern Kentucky, near the Tennessee state line, and 10 years old in 1865 when slaves were declared to be free. The day was commemorated under the name The Eighth of August and the Ku Klux Klan then surfaced in December of that year. Dinning bought from his former slave owner David Dinning in 1877 the land on which he lived, paying off the debt by 1884. He built a house, had a farm, and raised a family. In January 1897 Dinning had 25 white men come to his house at night, wrongfully accuse him of stealing livestock and shooting at the house. Dinning returned fire and a white man in the group died. Dinning a day later turned himself into the Sheriff, and that day his wife and children were told by another mob of men to leave the property and it was then burned.

While Dinning was in custody, Kentucky Governor Bill Bradley was instrumental in keeping him alive. There was a long history of blacks being taken out of police custody and killed by white mobs so the Governor sent troops to Frankin to protect Dinning. Also, prior to his trial for murder, the Kentucky Senate passed an anti-lynching bill that was signed into law by the Governor. About halfway through the book, Montgomery introduces Colonel Bennett H. Young. He was a lawyer who was on the side of the South in the Civil War, robbing a bank in the town of St. Albans, Vermont to fund the war effort, and yet after it was over, he helped people of color. The jury in Dinning’s trial found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Public sentiment was that he shouldn't have been found guilty of anything and should be pardoned by the Governor. Bennett Young sent a telegram to the Governor urging a pardon, and then Bradley issued one, freeing Dinning two weeks after the verdict. 

Dinning moved with his family to Jeffersonville, Indiana and Young represented him in a suit against the men who came to his house that first night as well as those who came back when it burned down. It was the first time a black man brought suit for damages against a white mob and in Louisville in May 1899, Dinning was awarded $50,000, to be paid by the six men deemed most liable. This case paved the way for others in the South, including another by Dinning that was settled. Dinning changed his last name to Denning and grew old in Jeffersonville along with his wife Mollie, children, and grandchildren. The book closes with a man named  Anthony Denning, in 2019 in Jeffersonville where he grew up. His great-grandmother Mollie Denning died in 1944 close the age of eighty-nine and great-grandfather George died in 1930. 

It's a well-detailed and I'm sure thoroughly researched book that gives a solid telling of important events. Also, I thought excellent the bookends to the story, with the end having this mention of how the family legacy carried on, and in the beginning, Montgomery writing about the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, which features a walkway through and under 800 coffin-sized steel boxes, each containing the name of an American county and the names of those lynched there, some 4,400 people.

Intangibles by Joan Ryan

Intangibles by Joan Ryan is a solid book subtitled Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry.

Ryan worked as a sports columnist in San Francisco and then as a media consultant with the Giants and the book centers around team chemistry in baseball. She makes the point that baseball would seem to be the sport where team chemistry the least important as the players are each completing tasks on their own, but there’s some fascinating stories she tells about team chemistry in the sport. Featured are the Giants of the late 1980s led by Roger Craig, with Mike Krukow, Dave Dravecky, Kevin Mitchell, and Will Clark, as well as later Giants teams with Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.

In terms of the relationship with a coach, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is quoted as saying that players want to know three things about someone: Does he care about me? Can I trust him? Can he make me better? These ideas also are applicable to relationships between players. Ryan writes extensively about the bond that comes from having the back of your teammates, a principle that applies to soliders in combat, of course on a much more important level. Also, players will be more likely to come together and have team chemistry if they feel they’re a part of something important or in something together.  Also noted is oxytocin, which is released from the brain when someone has good feelings about something, and that people need to feel trusted and valued to have a team working effectively. 

Ryan writes as well about different personality types on a team, and how there's different types both needed and that can work together effectively. The best for team chemistry are super-carriers, with baseball nomad Jonny Gomes cited as an example of someone who actively cared about his teammates. There's also super-disruptors, and it's interesting to read of how Ryan describes Giants superstar Barry Bonds as not one. He wasn’t a great teammate in the super-carrier sense, but he performed on the field and his fairly aloof behavior didn’t negatively impact the team. Jeff Kent is cited as his teammate who was the same way, they weren’t personable with each other or their other teammates, but they both wanted to win, produced individually, and had each other's back when needed. The worst is the complainer looking for recruits. The second worst is the malingerer, the person who always needs to rest or is mildly hurt, not sacrificing. Seven archetypes that Ryan notes are the sparkplug, the sage, the kid, the enforcer, the buddy, the warrior, and the jester. Also, Warriors star Steph Curry is mentioned the rare super-carrier who has all seven archetypes.