Team of Teams

Time has come for another book review. The Summer is, for me at least, time for reading and reflection. I’ve seen the book ”Team of Teams” been recommended within the agile community, and therefore it caught my interest. I really liked ”Turn the Ship Around” by L. David Marquet, retired from U.S. Navy. This book is written by General Stanley McChrystal, retired from U.S. Army. The subtitle is ”New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”. It holds some 250 pages, and was released in November 2015.

”Team

Content

The book consist of 12 chapters divided into five parts. The chapters are:

  1. Sons of Proteus
  2. Clockwork
  3. From Complicated to Complex
  4. Doing the Right Thing
  5. From Command to Team
  6. Team of Teams
  7. Seeing the System
  8. Brains Out of the Footlocker
  9. Beating the Prisoner’s Dilemma
  10. Hands Off
  11. Leading Like a Gardener
  12. Symmetries

So what is this book about? I find this quote in the foreword: ”Management models based on planning and predicting instead of resilient adaptation to changing circumstances are no longer suited to today’s challenges”. The main story told in the book is the one about General McChrystal’s experiences from leading the Task Force in Iraq in their war against Al Qaeda. How they were badly beaten and had to change the whole organization from silos to to a network, to be able to succeed. The primary lesson that emerged, was the need to scale to adaptability and cohesiveness of small teams up to the enterprise level. General McChrystal calls this ”Eyes On – Hands Off” leadership. Meaning supervising of processes ensuring that silos or bureaucracy that dooms agility were avoided, rather than focus on making individual operational decisions.

Some new vocabulary, for me at least, from the military is used throughout the book. One example is ”limfac”, that stands for limiting factor (the one element in a situation that holds you back). I will start to use that!

For a very long time the focus of management have been on efficiency. Getting the most of a desired output (y), with the least available input (x). Now the focus needs to be on adaptability.

”Efficiency is doing the things right; effectiveness is doing the right thing.” – Peter Drucker

Sadly, in many cases still, the opposite holds true. Greatly summarized in the sentence: ”Great landing, wrong airport!”, that I’ve seen heavily shared within the agile community.

How we set up physical space really matters, and is reflected in how people work and behave. ”If you lock yourself in your office, I don’t think you can be a good executive” is a quote by Michael Bloomberg found in this book.

I chapter 9, The Prisoner’s Dilemma is introduced. From a management perspective it has interesting implications. It suggests that there are circumstances in which cooperation is better than competition. This seems obvious, but many managers assume that the healthy competitiveness between companies (that is the lifeblood of the free market), also shall be used within companies. People and departments within a company needs to see the whole to be able to cooperate fully, without having their own ”hidden agendas” (that can be the case in many companies today). The infamous problems with the car models Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 (where GM had to recall 800,000 vehicles in 2014) is summarized with the following sentence: ”It was a perfect and tragic case study of the consequences of information silos and internal mistrust”.

Instead the following quote from Alan Mullally, CEO of Ford, leading their successful return in the market during recent years, shall be a guideline:

”Working together aways works. It always works. Everybody has to be on the team. They have to be interdependent with one another.”

Sandy Pentland, a MIT professor, states the two major determinants of idea flow; ”engagement” within a small group like a team or department, and ”exploration” – frequent contact with other units. In other words: a team of teams.

Finally, how should a leader lead? General McChrystal belief is (and I totally agree) ”leading like a gardener”, meaning:

  • Shaping the ecosystem (instead of ”moving pieces on the board”).
  • Delegate decisions to subordinates.
  • Creating and maintaining the teamwork conditions (”tending the garden”), a delicate balance of information and empowerment.
  • Drive the operating rhythm, with transparency and cross-functional cooperation.
  • Shape the culture.
  • Focus on clearly articulated priorities by explicitly and repeatedly talking about them.
  • Leading by example (it is impossible to separate words and actions, so they have to ”be the same”).

Recommendation

”The leader’s first responsibility is to the whole.” – General McChrystal

In summary the ”Team of Teams”-book tells very many stories, from the Army and the industry. Some of them appeals to me, other don’t. Overall the message told in this book really resonates with my own believes regarding teams, and how they should interact in a larger context! If you are interested in teamwork, and the war against Al Qaeda, you should buy this book.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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