Sunday, December 13, 2015

Reading :: Team of Teams

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
By General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell

Former Army General Stanley McChrystal became a household name when he was profiled by Rolling Stone. That's also when he lost his job, after one of his aides was quoted denigrating the Vice President. Arguably his resignation had to happen, since the military needs to display respect for its civilian chain of command. But it was also a loss: McChrystal had intelligently reformed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during his tenure of commander.

After his resignation, McChrystal taught courses at Yale and started the McChrystal Group, which is "a leadership and management consultancy composed of a diverse mix of professionals from the military, academic, business, and technology sectors." The group provides consulting services that help these stakeholders to manage complexities using the "team of teams" approach that McChrystal devised for JSOC.

Team of Teams is the McChrystal Group's calling card. It was a NYT bestseller. And it lays out the basics of the approach. McChrystal cites people such as John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, John Boyd, and Henry Mintzberg, people who should be familiar to longtime readers of this blog. Drawing from these sources and from his own experience as JSOC commander, McChrystal describes a flatter organizational structure that emphasizes command without close control; constant mutual adjustment; and cultivated associational links across silos. The lessons of the book are provided along with detailed examples from McChrystal's time in JSOC.

None of the lessons in the book will be much of a surprise to those who have read the source materials. But the book discusses these lessons in a popular narrative mode, drawing us along and summarizing its lessons at the end of each chapter. The book is a lot more readable than Boyd, certainly.

If you've been steeped in the readings above or in other 4GW readings, this book won't have a lot to teach you. But if you're new to the application of organizational networks in complex multidisciplinary environments, and you want a gentle introduction, this book could be it—especially if you're coming from a hierarchical or bureaucratic environment. See what you think.

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