One of my goals this year is to read at least 30 books for personal and business growth, including those for the leadership course I am taking. One of these is Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal.
In the book the good General describes a team of teams as networks of networks in an organization with interesting dynamics going on within them like these below:
- In a good team, order tends to emerge from the bottom-up – team members in the lowest levels in an organisation tend to collaborate with those in high postions to figure out solutions to problems. Coming up with creative and workable outcomes. This also opens the team to combining brain power that yeilds solutions to the entire team which would be tapped into rather than people being directed to do something from on high.
2. Teams are much more inclined to adapt and collaborate – while working as a team everyone is more flexible in their thinking, there is little if any adaptability in a command-and-control management structure. The old hierarchy of waiting for instructions from above is no longer working as the team gets to know what needs to be done from their collaborations.
3. Teams are not necessarily efficient – within the team, there are frequently redundancies, overlaps, and so on. Even worse, getting to know your team members well takes lots of time which could be applied elsewhere to good effect. However, these overlaps and these redundancies are what give teams high-level adaptability. Great teams trust each other and therefore can reconfigure on the fly to suit the conditions they encounter.
So how exactly do you get a group of people with many different attributes to them in magnitudes to act as a team? General Stanley responds and says;
“On a single team, every individual needs to know every other individual to build trust, and they need to maintain comprehensive awareness at all times to maintain common purpose – easy with a group of twenty-five, doable with a group of fifty, tricky above one hundred, and definitely impossible across a task force of seven thousand. 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. And that could be effectively accomplished through representation.”
He warned and said
“The magic of teams is a double-edged sword once organizations get big: some of the same traits that make an adaptable team great can make it incompatible with the structure it serves.
In teams, I have learned that the underlying problem when a hierarchy goes to war against a network is that the hierarchy keeps devising solutions to yesterday’s problems while the team is working on future ones. A hierarchy can respond to situations as they arise but won’t be able to predict what will come next.
When you’re in an unpredictable environment, you’re always better off having teams that can see the big picture and improvise or adapt as they go along. In many organizations which have operational teams, those teams operate independently of each other and in their own narrow silos. They become efficient at what they do but struggle to figure out whether what they do well is what is really needed. They also become very slow to respond because they can’t see the bigger picture.
What is your team like?