On June 13, 2017, a new book in the Team of Teams series, entitled One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams (Portfolio) was released. An instant hit, it stands today in the top 10 in an Amazon.com sub-category, and stands at # 6 on the Wall Street Journal business best-seller list released today (June 23-24, 2017, p. C 10).
It is almost a certain selection for us at an upcoming First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. As always, we will closely monitor its performance on the major best-selling lists, and announce our decision a full month in advance.
According to Amazon.com, the lead author, Chris Fussell, is “a Partner at the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute and coauthor of the Team of Teams, a New York Times bestseller and the first book in the Team of Teams series. He was commissioned as a Naval Officer in 1997 and spent the next 15 years on U.S. Navy SEAL Teams around the globe. He then served as Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal during McChrystal’s final year commanding a Joint Special Operations Task Force fighting Al Qaeda around the globe.” The second author, C.W. Goodyear is a speechwriter and Yale graduate, specializing in economics. The foreward was written by General Stanley McChrystal, who wrote the original Team of Teams book.
Since leaving active duty in 2012, Fussell has also served as a Senior Fellow for National Security at New America, sits on the Board of Directors for the Navy SEAL Foundation, is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and teaches at Yale University’s Jackson Institute.
In Forbes.com, on June 13, 2017, Dan Schawbel, a keynote speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0., interviewed Fussell in a piece entitled “How to Make Your Organizational Flatter and More Connected.” The exact URL is: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2017/06/13/chris-fussell-how-to-make-your-organization-flatter-and-more-interconnected/#61ceddab789e
Dan Schawbel: Why are so many teams stuck in silos and with too much of a hierarchy?
Chris Fussell: Organizational silos — in the way we think of them — were initially formed out of necessity. During and after the Industrial Revolution, grouping specialized teams with similar functions together helped organizations to scale with operational efficiency. Good examples of this include Henry Ford’s Ford Motors and Thomas Edison’s General Electric. Although society today often uses the term “bureaucracy” only in relation to government departments, it also applies to the modern hierarchical corporate structures that evolved from early ideas of silo formation. We now think of it as a negative term, but it was critical to growth for many generations, and there is a lot of stability that can come from a well-run bureaucracy.
However, modern problem sets have made a strictly-bureaucratic approach an insufficient solution. When an external environment becomes unpredictable (as our world has), teams that were once functionally unrelated must connect across bureaucratic silos. As I found while leading special operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, if the problem is interconnected, your organization must be, as well. What this means is that bureaucratic hierarchies, which keep teams isolated from one another, are insufficient solutions to modern corporate issues.
Schawbel: How can teams be more agile and flat? Why is that beneficial?
Fussell: Most teams are naturally flat; they have fewer members than a large enterprise, which allows for intimacy and trust to form. This makes collaborative problem solving in individual teams more straightforward.
The challenge arises with replicating this trust and agility at scale between many teams. One of the most effective ways of creating this in our Special Operations Task Force came through the use of an Operations and Intelligence (“O&I”) forum — a regularly scheduled, digitally enabled means by which our top commanders could instantly interact with the most junior person in our organization, and through which any team could interact with any other one in our hierarchy.
I profile the creation and operation of this forum in One Mission, and also profile a civilian organization that has used one to scale agility between teams throughout its organization.
Schawbel: What have you learned from both your military and corporate experience about bringing teams together?
Fussell: I’ve learned that while the benefits of interconnecting teams span both worlds, doing this successfully is rarely a smooth process. Bureaucracies and hierarchies form “strategic echo chambers” to among small teams. Since teams are limited in the number and type of interactions they can have with other corners of the organization, they become arenas where only a certain view of an organization’s external environment is seen or accepted, and the blame for what is going wrong is entirely directed to another corner of the organization, often unfairly.
When these echo chambers are finally opened to the larger organization–civilian or military–it is initially a disruptive experience. In addition, learning to use and scale the practices we detail in One Mission requires patience and an ego-free approach by leaders. Leaders in an interconnected organization must be comfortable sitting in the middle of a network, not at the top of an org-chart.
Schawbel: Can you give an example of one of your clients that has benefitted from the One Mission principles?
Fussell: One McChrystal Group client that has seen great benefits from this approach is Intuit, Inc. We detail their experiences strategically aligning their teams in One Mission.
Intuit had long been staffed by excellent teams, who were nevertheless pursing their own metrics in isolation across the company’s five main product groups. They adopted that model because it worked well for the software company for many years. Yet as technology changed and the potential for mutual collaboration between these groups increased (e.g., working together on creating product offerings for smartphones, or sharing data) traditional approaches to aligning teams proved lacking. The top-down, silo-based approach was too slow for the modern marketplace.
Through defining their organization’s aligning narrative, strengthening it through the operation of what CEO Brad Smith called the “One Intuit Forum”, and carefully linking the objectives of its multiple high-performing teams, the bureaucratic obstacles that once stood between Intuit’s specialized elements were replaced by a common vision of success.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
1. Take accountability for your actions: Develop and nurture a strong, internal locus of control. In the military, and in business, the most elite and effective teams I’ve seen or been part of are filled with individuals who take responsibility for their choices. Life is a series of decisions that you make and actions you take, not a series of things that happen to you.
2. Put others first: The easiest way to make it through difficult times is to help those around you. If conditions are bleak, don’t look inward and feel like a victim; look at those around you and see how you can help them. A team whose members are constantly putting others ahead of themselves is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
3. Find three mentors: I always work to have a senior mentor in my life that I look up to, a peer who I think is doing things better than me, and someone younger who I think is living life more effectively than I was at that age. Keep a running list of people in these categories that you can watch and learn from. I use these people as guideposts in my own life, and it’s a tool that constantly forces me to reassess my own approach to living a life of meaning.