Thought Leadership Blog

Team of Teams: A New Organizational Strategy

Team of Teams: A New Organizational Strategy

12/1/2016

“There’s a temptation for all of us to blame failures on factors outside our control … there is also comfort in ‘doubling down’ on proven processes, regardless of their efficacy. Few of us are criticized if we faithfully do what had worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be our measure of success. There’s likely a place in paradise for people who tried hard, but what really matters is succeeding. If that requires you to change, that’s your mission.”

-  General Stanley McChrystal


General Stanley McChrystal was at the top of the pyramid in a hierarchy of thousands of soldiers overseas. Why – and how –  did he and his colleagues remake the century-old authority structure into something new? 

McChrystal called it “a network that combined extremely transparent communication with decentralized decision-making authority.” 

Why make such a radical change, and what are the potential benefits for my organization? Simply put: the world has changed. The way we work, the way we communicate, the way we live our lives – everything is new. Indeed, people who lived 100 years ago have more in common with people who lived 1,000 years ago than they do with the way people live their lives today. The curve of change has been steep. Leadership and authority structures, on the other hand, have not changed as quickly.

Change is uncomfortable. It is hard. So it is natural to – consciously or unconsciously – avoid it. 

In years past, from Henry Ford’s assembly line to many FORTUNE 500 companies today, businesses have become successful by becoming highly efficient. Economies of scale and doing more with less have long been the mantra or successful organizations. General McChrystal agrees with this for past successes, but believes in a radical new structure to ensure the success in the future.

“Efficiency remains important, but the ability to adapt to complexity and continual change has become an imperative,” General McChrystal said.  

The book, rather than being a ‘how-to’ manual,” describes journeying from the old paradigm to the new, using examples from military and business successes and failures. 

The truth is that many people would rather be trusted with a big job on a small team, than have a tiny job on a giant team. Indeed, on highly functional teams, where there is a high degree of trust, you will find people giving their personal best, according to Great Place to Work®, the workplace consultancy that authors the famous FORTUNE Best Workplaces lists. GPTW surveys 100,000 employees a year and mines the results for trends. The outcome is hard data that backs up General McChrystal’s gut instinct and hard-earned experience. 

Indeed, regardless of the employee’s generation, GPTW found that the top things employees want in an employer are:

+    Trust in the organization
+    Pride in what they do
+    Comradery with their co-workers

Nowhere on the list will you find the word “efficiency.”  The data also shows that trust in leadership fuels performance in revenue and growth.  Clearly, increased revenues and growth are the goal of every organization. And the old “command and control” structure is no longer as effective. 

Today, small teams with decision making authority and a high amount of trust and transparency is the recipe for success. This “team of teams” approach is wildly different from highly successful organizational structures of the past. But they are the formula for highly successful organizational structures of the future.

“The team of teams strategy has worked everywhere from hospital emergency rooms to NASA,” said General McChrystal. “It has the potential to transform organizations large and small.”
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