- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Portfolio; 1 edition (May 12, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591847486
- ISBN-13: 978-1591847489
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 508 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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.
The lessons in Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World were learned in war, a crucible that produces a lot of innovation. In this case, the innovation is in thinking about what most business writers call “management” or “leadership” or “organization,” and it’s one of the best books I’ve read on those topics.
A decade ago, Gary Hamel and Bill Breen asked us to cast our mind “forward a decade or two” and ask what management will be like then. That was in their excellent book The Future of Management. Guess what? They got some things right, but missed a lot because they were the early warning system. Team of Teams is the latest report on today’s best thinking.
The through-line of the book is about the formation and evolution of the Joint Special Operations Task Force. It is the story of the quest for members of that task force to find and defeat Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It is not a story about a planned change.
What McChrystal and his co-authors write about is an iterative evolutionary process of developing to understand and adapt to defeat an organization that was better suited for the modern battlefield than they were. It is also the story of how General Stanley McChrystal’s understanding of his role as the task force leader evolved. If he had stopped there, this would be another “this is how I did it” book. But McChrystal supplemented his experience with extensive research.
Two Different Models
In the beginning, the Task Force confronted Al-Qaeda in Iraq with a typical Industrial Age organization. It was designed to thrive in a complicated world, where relationships were linear and organizations strove primarily for efficiency. For that reason, the Task Force, like the rest of the Army, was hierarchical, with decisions moving up and down the chain of command. The task force relished planning, and had a culture of making decisions at the top.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was very different. Their organization was suited to today’s complex world. They shared information horizontally in an essentially flat organization. They were resilient because they were made up of many small units with freedom to act as fast as information-sharing suggested it was a good idea.
In the beginning, Al-Qaeda in Iraq had the upper hand. Chapter 1 of the book outlines that situation.
“To win, we had to change. Surprisingly, that change was less about tactics or new technology than it was about the internal structure and culture of our force – in other words, our approach to management.”
The Task Force structure was the typical Army structure. It’s also the typical organizational structure since the Industrial Revolution. Those organizations are great at efficient execution of known and repeatable processes. McChrystal and his team concluded that efficiency is no longer enough.
The challenge for the Task Force and for most organizations today is that technological changes have speeded up the world and made it more interdependent. In the old industrial world, complicated challenges would succumb to careful analysis. That made them predictable. Today, a fast-paced interdependent world is a complex phenomenon. Analysis doesn’t help much here. Instead of planning and prediction, what the task force found that it needed was resilience and adaptability. That requires a different style of management as well as different structure.
McChrystal compares a command structure to a team. In a command, hierarchy, planning and executing the plan were the way to succeed. But, if you’ve ever been part of a great team, either a military team or a sports team or a business team, you know that teams are qualitatively different from commands.
Teams are usually small but characterized by trust and information-sharing. Great teams grow by collaborating in several successful ventures. Working together is how teams learn what teamwork is for them. Team members learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and tendencies. That’s why, on most great teams, there is almost a sense that each team member knows what the others are thinking.
Transparency and information-sharing do not come naturally to most organizations, or even to most teams. For the task force to achieve what it needed to achieve, it had to go through several iterations where everything, ultimately, came up for review. By the end of the series of changes, the physical spaces where the teams worked were different, and almost every procedure had been changed in some way.
McChrystal uses SEAL teams as his model for a great team. The book describes basic SEAL training and team development, and in the process, gives a different picture than most treatments of the SEALS. McChrystal and his team point out that the primary purpose of SEAL training is not to develop super fit warriors as much as it is to develop the interdependence and trust you need to function effectively as an elite combat team. Again and again, the book returns to trust and transparency and collaboration as keys to the way organizations can work in today’s environment.
Other books that I’ve read have done a good job of describing elements of the kind of team organization that McChrystal and his co-authors are outlining. This book is different in two important ways. First, the book describes the development of team thinking in an organization that had to adapt to win. What results is a real-world example of actual changes that almost certainly would not have happened if some planning committee had tried to come up with them.
The second thing the book does is bring in research in many different fields to explain why some of the changes they made in a process of trial and learning work the way they do. What that means for you, the reader, is that you don’t have to look at McChrystal’s experience and the team he and his colleagues developed as the only way things can work. You can learn from their experience, but adapt to your experience because of the additional insights the book brings you.
There’s another big benefit to this book. Most of the key points about what makes a great team were things we already knew. McChrystal’s book puts them into a framework that’s helpful, but the book goes on to talk about how you expand that sense of trust and that transparency to a larger organization.
The truth is that one reason teams can have the transparency and trust they do is that they’re small. Most combat teams are six to eight people at the most. The largest athletic teams may have 85 players, but only a core of maybe twenty work together regularly enough to develop a team chemistry. McChrystal and his co-authors describe techniques that can expand the trust, transparency, agility, and resilience model to a larger organization. That, alone is worth the price of the book, but you wouldn’t understand it without the 130-some pages that come before it.
If you’re interested in or concerned about the ways organizations must change to be effective in a complex and fast-moving world, this book is a must-read. If you want a good study of team dynamics, this book will be worth your time. It will also be a good read for you if you’re intrigued with the military aspects of this, how the Joint Special Operations Task Force adapted to be more effective in Iraq.
Overall, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World is the best answer I’ve seen so far to the question Gary Hamel and Bill Breen asked a decade ago.