Companies today face the challenge of how to adapt their organizational structures and leadership models, designed in the 20th century, to the new pace of disruption in today’s increasingly digital global economy. This question — “How can large organizations move with the speed and agility of a small team?” — was at the heart of General Stanley McChrystal, Chris Fussell and al.’s book, Team of Teams (2015). In that book, they present a hybrid organizational model designed to inject the agility of modern networks into traditional bureaucratic team management structures. Now, in its sequel, One Mission, author Chris Fussell outlines the other half of the equation: the accompanying leadership model. Here are his 5 practical steps to leading teams cohesive and empowered enough to respond to today’s rapid-fire challenges and opportunities.
Creating and communicating a strategically aligning narrative
The idea of strategic alignment isn’t new, but the 20th-century approach of simply vertically cascading an overarching mission is no longer enough. With such an approach, you might achieve a semblance of vertical alignment. You might succeed at ascribing team metrics and goalposts that on the surface align to your organization’s overall mission, but such alignment now tends to come at the expense of horizontal alignment, translating into internal bottlenecks and blind spots that undermine team performance. In response, Fussell argues that a powerful aligning strategic narrative today necessarily “places just as much emphasis on lateral, informal information highways as it does on vertically approved, solid-line pathways of approval and authority.” The idea is to create and communicate a narrative that not only unites your teams around a single organizational mission, but also emphasizes how to achieve mission – and that how first and foremost covers desired attitudes and behaviors around collaboration, particularly across internal silos. The intended aim of such a narrative is no less than culture change. “Instead of talking only about winning, (you) talk about changing who (you) are in order to win,” Fussell writes. And, in this context, winning means transforming from isolated teams and leaders into one cohesive, organic movement.
Using new technologies to achieve cohesion and transparency
Once you create and communicate an aligning narrative for culture change towards greater collaboration and connection across the organization, the next step is creating the conditions that facilitate the desired collaborative behaviors. Specifically, Fussell advocates leveraging the potential of new digital technologies to take traditional corporate war rooms to the next level. He calls this type of unifying space an Operations & Intelligence Forum (O&I). The idea is to implement the boundary-spanning potential of digital networking, while maintaining the order and discipline provided by your bureaucratic hierarchy. “An O&I needs to fill two functions: to provide a means for boundary connectors to be created from any individuals in any team and to allow an organization’s aligning narrative to be directly recommunicated by strategic leaders to an entire organization,” he explains.
• Start at the top: Enlist key hierarchical decision makers to participate in regularly scheduled meetings for key strategic information sharing. You are likely to be met with skepticism – you want me to spend two hours a day in yet another meeting? Overcoming that skepticism necessitates first winning support from the highest levels of influence. Draft a list of questions for your targeted senior-level participants about what they would need to get out of your O&I forum to make it worth their while (increased organizational transparency, agility, and so on).
• Select the space: Carefully select a physical space that has symbolic significance (be careful, for example, of choosing to sit in a boardroom, which can send a counterproductive “ivory-tower” message) and is big enough to be outfitted with TV monitors, cameras and microphones.