The speed and interdependence of current environment creates complexity. An optimal response in terms of adaptability to this context involves shared consciousness and decentralised empowered execution.

Author: [Stanley McChrystal]

In order to adapt its strategy and processes in a complex changing environment they embraced:

  • shared consciousness: transparent information sharing
  • empowered execution: decentralised decision making authority.

This yielded a team of teams. Agility of small teams applied to thousands across countries switching from hierarchies and silos that fostered efficiency in the XX century.

Maps replaced by whiteboards used to draw mutable relations between things. They found tangled networks instead of traditional hierarchical structures.

They saw this pack of clear structure as a design that should lead to chaos. Learned that an organisation can only be assessed within the surrounding environment.

Zeitgeist: interconnectedness, ability to transmit information instantly allow small groups to have global influence.

Admiral Nelson greatest victory is explained by his innovative managerial approach in which he provided space for initiative and trusted his strategy to his well trained captains. (page 30)

Limiting factor (limfac) is an element in a situation that holds you back. In their case was traditional military management.

Standardization and taylorism

Taylor was a gifted privileged kid, probe to optimise things since childhood and that later stated that 6 months working at a factory at age of 17 was the best education experience he ever had.

He realised that every worker has its own way to do things and soon realised that there must be “one best way”. This is the seed oh his theory, scientific management. In order to find it out he setup experiments aimed at not working harder but more productively.

For Taylor managers were research scientists and architects of efficiency.

Views of management by Taylor’s disciples. Management is:

  • Plan
  • organize
  • command staff
  • coordinate
  • report
  • budget

Although his view of workers as lazy People in need of incentives and planners on top of the in order to be motivated, Taylorism Is still much alive in our quest of how to do things better.

Appreciating the magnitude of what one does not know is one of the main topics of this book

From complicated to complex

Technological development has flavoured our abilities to track, measure and communicate but it has also increased complexity making world less predictable.

Complex systems are those densely interconnected and that interact so frequently that they are really hard to untangle. In addition, those dense interactions cause nonlinear change in the system. An event is unpredictable because it is the result of many causes linked by direct and indirect paths.

Complex systems are fickle and volatile. Complex systems: Weather (the butterfly effect by Lorenz), national economies…

Complicated problems have many parts but they can be broken down in a series of deterministic relationships.

Warren Beaver seminal paper “Science and complexity”

Hayek comments on impossibility to reduce National economies to mechanical systems as markets are the result of decisions of millions of people.

One strategy to solve complicated problems is breaking the process down into components.

A key difference between complicated and complex is the possibility of predicting the outcome within a time span (ex. Weather in a day, in a year)

Big data provides great insights to gain knowledge on the drivers of complex systems but it does not really improve the long term forecasts. For instance we may know how a Covid outbreak started but it is really difficult to where the next one is occurring.

Decentralisation with coherence

In complex environments resilience is key factor for succes. Command and control strategies are usually counterproductive. Instead the strategy should be focus on building resilience. Anti fragile systems benefit from shocks Vs fragile systems that suffer great damage.

In an uncontrolled quest for optimization we can confront the ugly truth of reducing the resilience of the system. For instance, Zillow instant buyer disregard the trope ” know that we don’t know”.

Robustness is about strengthening components of the system. Resilience is about linking them in a way that allows them to reconfigure in response to change.

Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things. Peter Drucker

Rules and limitations that prevents accidents, limit creativity. And sometimes attachment to procedure makes you lose track of what matters (purpose).

Breaking vertical silos was the first step to create a true network of teams that shared information.

Great teams bonds are built on the trust between members. This trust creates dense connectivity in the team, allowing them to quickly adayto changing environments.

In simple work environment, workers only need to know what the of their position is. In complex environments, it is important that the team is contextual aware of the overall picture and company strategy.

MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively exhaustive) covers all the scope without redundancy. Overlapping functions are inefficient but provides context and flexibility to the team.

Breaking silos between teams by increasing its connectivity, specially in the fault lines (spaces between teams).

Command of teams

How to scale the adaptability of teams across entire organization? How to ensure coordination within the superstructure by increasing trust and purpose without creating chaos?

Robin Dunbar: number of people we can trust, from 100 to 230. Malcolm Gladwell “Rule of 150” in his book Outliers. These figures might indicate why the goal of a team might not overlap to the goal of the superstructure it serves.

As a team grows the number of links to be managed increases exponentially. Team dynamics are delicate and adding new members puts them to test. See the book Leading Teams by Richard Hackman

Team of teams

Creating meaningful connections in a large organisation as those existing among team members is not easy task.the key is representation. You need everyone to know someone on every team.

Lack of information sharing between teams causes breakdowns. These breakdowns are not of not of components but of the integration between them ("interface failures")

NASA Apollo program managerial foundation by George Mueller. Joint cognition like a nervous system. Forced managers and engineers to communicate daily with their functional counterparts in other teams. Daily analysis and quick data exchange via a central control group.

Contractors in house along with the resident engineers embraced and understood the Apollo project in its integrity. Systems thinking proposes that one cannot understand part of a system without a rudimentary understanding of the whole.

NASAS managerial system showed that in a domain with great intercependence and uncertainty, contextual understanding is key. Silos provide efficiency gains but interface failures increase costs.

Systems thinking

Education Vs training. Education requires understanding, which allows us to face almost any problem. Training is focused on singular topics that might only be useful for particular issues.

People cooperate if they can see the interdependent nature of the environment. That requires having insights on how other teams work and how all pieces fit together by incorporating a knowledge pool.

Each team needs to have an overall understanding of the environment while keeping its own set of capabilities. “Generalized awareness and specialized expertise”

The role of physical arrangement of teams at offices is undeniable. Open plans foster spontaneous interaction and knowledge sharing.

In the quest of shared consciousness they increased information sharing and changed the briefing processes between juniors and seniors showing newbies how a problem is tackled in real time.

Cultural barriers and each team’s own narrow perspective posed the main challenges for shared consciousness. This meant creating relationships instead of just seeing other teams as separate forces that get and give.

Embedding program, a team member spend sometime inside other team to learn how to see war from the other team perspective.

Liaisons, or interfaces, were intermediate roles that connected teams. Liaison members needed to be provided by deep support by the central team in order to be of value for their hosts.

GM was a mess in terms of management, chaotic and lacking coordination and transversal organizer. Alfred Sloan changed the situation by introducing “decentralised operations and coordinated control”. What we call today as silos, hierarchical command and control structure. This led to great market share gains from 1920 to 1960 but in the 70s it’s lac of flexibility to adapt cars to customers chanfi go tasted caused serios troubles.

Ford approach, “working together” brought by ex responsible of Boeing 777,Mullaly. Ensured systematic transparency and forced interaction (live update 3D model of boeing that could be consulted by any engineer). Integrated designers and engineers as japanese used to do.

Working together always works. It always works. They have to be interdependent with one another. - Mullalya

Breaking silos

Embracing intercependence. Horizontal collaboration foster enterprise effectiveness. Collective intelligence depends on the connection among individuals and the 2 major drivers of idea flow are:

  • Engagement within a team
  • Exploration, frequent contact with other units.

In order to replace the old silo based system by shared consciousness system two things are needed:

  • Participatory transparency: holistic awareness
  • Internal connectivity across teams: embedding and liason programs.

Hands off

Although managers love to take final decisions, sometimes they trust their teams so much that most of the time they just follow recommendations by team leaders. In that case, manager’s approval only adds delay to the process.

Although communication flowed freely among teams and many people knew how to “do the right thing”, decision taking was slow. Avoid the team to ask for permission for routine task. In that case the leader must state clearly thoughts and philosophy on those situations so the team can make the call independently. cost of delay < cost of errors caused by removing supervisor

Empowerment generates intrinsic task motivation. On the other hand micromanagement costs are higher than ever as the interdependence of issues makes lots of situations unpredictable, thus causing heavy deviation from plans. In those situations, empowered teams are the more agile response.

Empowerment is achieved by delegating decisions on the team and publicly rewarding their initiative. Even when failing. A necessary condition for empowerment to work is contextual understanding.

In the old model, subordinates provide information and leaders disseminated commands. We reversed it: we had our leaders provide information so that subordinates armed with context, understanding and connectivity, could take initiative and make decisions.

From chess master to gardener

The chess player commands the different pieces following a strategy. The pieces don’t have a general overview of the chessboard, only the master has the necessary context.

A gardener creates the necessary environment to vegetables to grow, but it cannot directly command the growing. Itgst context the main responsibility involves maintaining the teamwork conditions needed.

Nothing is heard until is said several times. Only when you hear your own words echoed by subordinates you can be certain the message has been delivered.

perhaps an organisation sells widgets and the leader finds thar she loves everything about widgets -designing, building and marketing then; that’s still not where the leader is most needed. The leader first responsible is to the whole.

Empowered execution requires shared consciousness. Empowering people without context leads to havoc.