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.