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Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World Hardcover – May 12, 2015
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“In addition to being a fascinating and colorful read, this book is an indispensable guide to organizational change.” –Walter Isaacson, from the foreword
“This is a bold argument that leaders can help teams become greater than the sum of their parts.” —Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit
“Team of Teams is erudite, elegant, and insightful. An unexpected and surprising wealth of information and wonder, it provides a blueprint for how to cope with increasing complexity in the world. A must read for anyone who cares about the future—and that means all of us.” —Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind
“Team of Teams is a compelling, pragmatic argument for a more information-rich, decentralized approach to management from a leader who has successfully weathered storms with higher stakes than most business leaders will ever encounter. A must-read book for anyone serious about taking their leadership further, faster.”—John Venhuizen, president & CEO, Ace Hardware Corporation
“General Stan McChrystal’s Team of Teams is an instant classic. Best leadership book I have read in many a decade, by one of our nation’s most gifted and iconic general officers.”—Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret), Supreme Allied Commander at NATO 2009–2013; dean, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
“The lessons and concepts outlined in Team of Teams provide a valuable blueprint for leadership across any industry or domain. The principles of classical leadership struggle to deal with today’s pace of change, free-flow of information, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the digital generation. Team of Teams harnesses these new realities as assets, providing a leadership framework to produce the inclusiveness and adaptability of a fast-moving start-up, at the scale of any size organization.” —Brad Smith, president and CEO, Intuit
“In Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal, who won some of our most striking victories in the great war between nations and terrorist networks, shares insights for all in this lucid, persuasive, and sometimes wrenching account of our troubled yet transformational times.” —John Arquilla, professor, Defense Analysis United States Naval Postgraduate School
“In the fast-moving world of today and tomorrow, organizations that don’t adapt will simply fade. Team of Teams makes this case in compelling ways. I literally could not put the book down.” —Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad”
About the Author
Stanley McChrystal retired from the U.S. Army as a four-star general after more than thirty-four years of service. His last assignment was as the commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. His memoir, My Share of the Task, was a New York Times bestseller. He is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the cofounder of CrossLead, a leadership consulting firm. Tantum Collins is currently studying international relations at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar. David Silverman and Chris Fussell are senior executives at CrossLead and former U.S. Navy SEAL officers.
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The discussions in the book are grounded in organizational management theory and leadership methods, but along the way gives a once in a lifetime look at the inside of the most storied Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit in existence today. This is not a book about the latest way to become a great leader. In fact it’s about becoming the kind of senior leader that can develop and sustain an entire workforce of great leaders. The lessons the authors put forward to challenge the typical (and often failing) organizational models and leadership approaches were paid for in blood over the last decade.
I do not come at this review as a scholar of organizational management but rather as a participant and recipient of the Team of Teams approach in the military where I was a leader for over 20 years. I have known the author for more than 2 decades having served as a front line Soldier and leader in his unit and also as his assistant/confidante/advisor during his most senior command. Stan, along with his 3 co-authors, believes that the world is now so complex (vice complicated) that the old models of command and control are extinct. They are so passionate about this evolution that they have started a successful consulting firm to share their lessons. I have worked with 90 plus U.S. and international organizations in and out of government and I cannot think of one that would not benefit from this study.
An alternate title to this book might have been Trust and Purpose meets Empowered Execution. The Task Force’s journey towards shared consciousness and smart autonomy starts in 2003 with the stunning realization by the commander of the world’s most precise and lethal Counter-Terrorism Task Force that they were losing the strategic war against Al Qaeda. From there the authors interlace examples and case studies of organizational models, leadership techniques, and technological advances from a myriad of areas. They include weather forecasting, basketball and soccer, engineering marvels, big data, airline customer service, aircraft crews, NASA, SEAL training, plastic surgeons at the Boston Marathon bombing, GM versus Ford, MIT studies, and the enduring effects of Ritz Carlton and Nordstrom. My favorite example is the Star Wars bar comparison.
The discussions found in the various chapters of the book are wide-ranging but relevant to leading all organizations in this modern world. The following should be of interest to today’s leaders: the difference between complicated and complex environments; how having more information available does not improve prediction nor mean lead to smarter decisions at the top; Taylorisms and efficiency ideals may actually cost you more than they save; the ‘need to know’ fallacy; the value of using your best people as ‘liaison officers’ or ‘embeds’; how resilient people make organizations stronger because they can adapt to changing environments; learning from your adversary is time well spent--they might have a better organizational model not necessarily better people; how to delegate authority to take action until you are uncomfortable; how to build trust and a shared awareness of the big picture; ‘eyes on, hands off’ leadership; and the difference between creating Strategic Corporals and an organization full of Lord Horatio Nelsons.
The book carries you forward in time to see how far the Task Force had come by changing their culture, structure, and habits to allow the larger corporate command to become as agile and capable as its commandos. Pages 184-188 detail the successful operations that the “Task Force” were able to undertake after the shift. This short example, that covers just 46 minutes of a follow-on-target operation, highlights sharply the outcome of The Task Force’s investment in transparency, trust building and empowered execution. The command took risks and luckily their bosses supported them and let them learn to beat AQI at its own game.
Sir Lieutenant General Lamb, a close friend of Stan McChrystal, shared a paper with me once that he titled 'In Command and Out of Control' and it raises a lot of the same questions and concepts about how to lead in a complex and fast-paced world. The conclusions were similar. Success comes from giving freedom to subordinates, increasing speed of action, achieving self-synchronization---in a nutshell: decentralized command. The concept is literally about getting 'out of the control' business and realizing that in order for organizations to take advantage of fleeting opportunities teams must be empowered at the lowest levels to take action. McChrystal echoes this and the need to repeatedly broadcast so that everyone knows the goals and strategy of the organization. This includes letting everyone in the organization have a say about the direction of the ship and feel free to alert others of impending icebergs. McChrystal and Lamb’s cooperation in Iraq was not by accident but from years of trust building and a shared awareness of the big picture.
Missing from the book is a deeper discussion on the role of planning, plans, strategic thinking and strategy. While the Team of Teams approach allows organizations to be adaptable and resilient there is still a key role for planning and strategy. Maybe it’s as simple as the old adage ‘the plan is nothing but planning is everything’ or maybe this is the topic for their next book. Although its demonstrated throughout the book its unstated that great leaders are often well-read. Only by studying leaders and organizations can you begin to see the need for the Nelson touch, to avoid the Perry principle, or understand the butterfly effect.
The book is only 250 pages long but it is full of simple time-tested ideas that can be put into action with little cost. The difficult part of acting within the shared consciousness that Stan McChrystal describes is getting your people to realize they are empowered to make decisions. This task mostly falls on the senior leaders of an organization. This method can be exhausting and requires resilient and disciplined leadership at all levels, but the rewards are unmatched. I have personally served in organizations that utilize shared consciousness and empowered execution or have previously undergone a Team of Teams evolution. The fact that the culture endures after the leader departs says a lot about how powerful a culture change in an organization can be. I have also served in government agencies that just couldn’t accept that their strength truly lied in informed and empowered employees. Luckily the latter are destined for the dustbin of history.
More and more often today leaders reinforce an environment that speeds up business failure. The world has changed and leadership models haven't kept up. This book can show you how to adapt to the complex world we find ourselves in. Team of Teams documents how the most professional and deadly special operations force found itself humbled by an enemy that was better adapted to the 21st century way of war. More importantly it’s about how leaders at all levels need to be humble enough to realize when to change their old ways and trust their people to make rapid yet informed decisions.
Previous books apply military principles to business (think of titles such as the West Point Way of Leadership) were one-sided. McChrystal and his co-authors, by contrast, delve deep into management lessons from government, business and civilian life to paint a much more holistic picture of how complexity affects all organizations. One of the most important insights gleaned from both his military and advisory experience is that the continuum from strategy and action to assessment and revision is now a loop – and a very rapid cycle one.
No other set of authors could possibly draw the parallels McChrystal and his team does between the spread of infectious diseases and insurgencies, between the social network savvy of Al Qaeda and ISIS operatives and today’s “digital natives,” or contrast historical battles led by top-down generals versus the crew that saved United Airlines flight 1549 (that safely landed the doomed plane in the Hudson River). Straightforward graphics in the book also nicely illustrate just how different confronting chaos is from traditional management philosophies.
Another virtue of this book is bringing to life the importance of team building and trust. Here he reveals not just the intense military operational tempo that makes devolving decision-making essential, but also brings in timely real-world cases ranging from General Motors to Ritz Carlton.
Having known Gen. McChrystal personally for more than 15 years, I have no doubt that this book is the continuation of a truly unique journey. Fortunately for readers, his journey is ever more relevant for leaders across all walks of life today.
-- Dr. Parag Khanna
Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation