Dialogue on Leadership: Generation Flux Say Goodbye to Org Charts

Photo: FastCompany.com

Photo: FastCompany.com

It has been a while since I last wrote about Generation Flux, and today’s post has been inspired by an extremely interesting web chat between Fast Company’s Robert Safian who coined the term, and General Stanley McChrystal, David Silverman and Chris Fussell who are the authors of a new book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

In the book, General McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, non-profits, and other or­ganizations:

The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion. The Team of Teams strategy has worked everywhere from hospital emergency rooms to NASA. It has the potential to transform organizations large and small.

It was a fascinating exchange, including various questions from both Robert and the audience, and I thought I would share some of the answers along with a few additional observations of my own.

Credit: FastCompnay

Credit: FastCompnay

The concept of the Team of Teams is explained in this infographic:

Credit: Illustrations: Relajaelcoco, Artwork adapted from

Credit: Illustrations: Relajaelcoco, Artwork adapted from “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”

So while firstly we see that this is all about relationships, a major point to note is that early on in the conversation the concept of shared consciousness was discussed:

David Silverman : Shared Consciousness is the emergent intelligence that is created across a networked organization when you have a lot of transparent interactions on a consistent basis. What it does is create the critical feedback that is necessary to allow an organization and individuals to consistently and accurately correct their respective actions and decisions so they can be the right thing at the right time constantly.

Chris Fussell: Shared Consciousness was the ultimate goal of the organization. How do we ensure that thousands of people around the world have access to the right information and an interconnected view of the problem. We did this by creating robust communication forums (on our Operating Rhythm) that included, literally, thousands of people on live video teleconference every day. That became the heartbeat of creating shared consciousness, and driving effective actions.

The complementary dimensions of relationships and consciousness are very related to our work with holonomic thinking as you will see in this illustration:

Credit: Simon Robinson

Credit: Simon Robinson

This makes perfect sense from the perspective of holonomic thinking. Time and again organisations attempt to introduce new systems and frameworks which promise great improvements, but these improvements often never materialise. Leadership becomes absolutely critical in finding ways to develop this shared consciousness, and hence shared meaning across different teams, departments, business units and of course across national boundaries, cultures and social classes with very different lived experiences.

Complex systems such as the Toyota Production System or Spotify’s Engineering Culture have at their core a pulse or rhythm. This is quite a characteristic of living systems, and the concept reappears, not surprisingly in the framework of team of teams:

Chris Fussell: The battle rhythm, what we call “Operating Rhythm” in the business environment, is a critical component for every industry. Our goal was to understand the pace of the threat we were facing, then position ourselves to communicate and drive action one step faster than that. For us, that meant communicating on a 24-hour cycle, 7 days a week…for years on end. Every leader needs to understand the pace of their industry – and ensure they’re positioned to move faster!

James Bond mindsetA few weeks ago I was in Joinville in the south of Brazil discussing the new mindset needed in business to thrive in a complex and chaotic world, and rather than using army analogies, I quite like to use the analogy of James Bond. At times he follows orders from M, and at other times of emergency and chaos he really has to think on his feet where there is no time for a command and control structure.

There is a clear role for leaders now in that they have to both adapt to this new reality, and also empower their teams as well:

David Silverman: Most people don’t like Chaos but we found that our vote was not the deciding factor in the new reality that is today’s unpredictable environment. So you can bitch about it or you can decide to do something about it. For us and our comrades it was life and death and we absolutely hated losing more than anything else so made a collective decision to try and become more adaptive.

Chris Fussell: To those that don’t like chaos, I say…it’s no longer up to you. It’s a guiding principle of the information age – as the external world is so much faster and interconnected than it’s ever been. If you’re more comfortable in the traditional, predictable bureaucratic system – you can fight the change, but you’re doing so at your own peril.

Gen Stanley McChrystal: For those who are uncomfortable with chaos and uncertainty, life is going to get really hard. You can create an insulated world in which the inputs are limited and processes predictable, but just don’t expect to grow a firm, dominate a market, successfully help kids navigate to the education they need, or govern effectively. The world has changed and it isn’t going to slow down or simplify.

Team of Teams

I myself asked a question about cultural differences. Now that I have been in Brazil for a number of years, you really notice how inflexible, arrogant and often ignorant many business gurus are of the culture here in Brazil, and of the way in which their systems, methods and ideas have to be adapted, otherwise they will fail.

Even stuff which is basic such as matrix organisations, a well-tried and tested pre-cursor to the teams of teams concept just doesn’t work in a culture like Brazil where status and your position in society’s hierarchy is everything (and I would have to say at times more important than achieving business success).

Chris Fussell: We’ve done work in many different business cultures around the globe. Just like in the military, there are nuances to every culture’s approach to leadership. Some cultures are more aggressive about leveraging the network model, others less so. But even in the most traditional hierarchies, everyone will respond to the fact that the organization is suffering from an inability to move as quickly as the environment requires. If that is the start point of common understanding – the way that we move forward can be tailored to meet the specific cultural nuances.

Image credit: FastCompany

Image credit: FastCompany

I think ultimately it is important for leaders to really develop a sense and understanding of empowered execution:

Chris Fussell: On the ground – Empowered Execution felt like a massively heightened sense of accountability to the larger organization. Suddenly (through Shared Consciousness) – we all were expected to understand the overarching strategy, the resource constraints, etc. Inside of that understanding, and with the Decision Space give to you by senior leadership
, you were empowered (that is, EXPECTED) to move quickly and accurately without relying on the system to approve every decision you made. This allowed us to increase both speed and accuracy exponentially.

Gen Stanley McChrystal: Empowered Execution is the product that Shared Consciousness allows. It is more than simply “decentralizing decision making.” If you push authority (and responsibility) for decisions down to lower levels but don’t accompany that with all the contextual understanding (based on information flow), you’ve set your teams and junior leaders unfairly up for failure. You can’t expect people to make the right decisions unless given the tools. But when you do pass both the contextual understanding down, and accompany that with the freedom to decide and act, you find the decisions made closer to the action (or closer to the customer) can be faster, more precise, and nuanced where necessary. In combat I found that given the tools, junior leaders made extraordinary judgements under great pressure – but only when I created an environment that sets them up for success.

Overall it was an excellent Q and A session with many great questions and reflections. You can see the whole session here:

Goodbye Org Chart: A Q&A With Gen. Stanley McChrystal, David Silverman, And Chris Fussell

Team of Teams has already received many glowing reviews, and I look forward to reading and it and offering my own review of it in the coming months.

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