1. About the Author. The book is written by Gen Stanley McChrystal, a retired United States Army General, best acknowledged for his role as the leader of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). He has written two other books on leadership, ‘Leaders: myth and reality’ and ‘My share of the task’. His last task, before retiring was to lead the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been attributed to the focused and innovative efforts of the General. The Author is known to be bold and is recognised for saying what other military leaders were afraid to. This was one of the prime reasons why he was chosen to lead all forces in Afghanistan. Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the author as “Perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I ever met”. The author’s wealth of experience from his military career and his research, from sources as diverse as hospital emergency rooms to NASA’s space program, suitably qualifies him to cover the subject in detail.
4. About the Book. Team of Teams gives a perception of the contemporary application of leadership and management essential to plan and prosper in this intricate world. The book is not a study of past military events, but alternatively, a brief and exceptional compendium of intuitive thoughts put forward through delightful narratives varying from locations like industries to hospital emergency rooms. A light read which is recommended for leaders from all categories of organisations who have the pressing requirement to shatter the result of siloed teams. To overcome these limitations that leave decision making unproductive in the modern domain.
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5. The discussions in the book are simple in organisational management theory and leadership methods. The book does not discuss the latest way or a secret to becoming a great leader. In fact, it focuses on becoming a superior leader that can evolve and maintain a complete staff of exceptional leaders. An alternate title may have been ‘Empowered execution through trust and purpose’.
6. The book is written in a very simple and lucid manner and makes an interesting read also for a not so regular reader. Though a retired military general writes it, the book’s applicability is not limited to military and is a must-read for leaders in all organisations. The author suggests that even business executives could effectively apply wartime lessons to their boardrooms. The author has covered a vast canvass in the book and has touched upon various issues relevant to modern leadership. The logic given is simple and applicable, it shows how the challenges faced by the US special forces in Iraq can be relevant for any leader.
7. The Strong Points. The author strongly believes that the world is now so complex (vice complicated) that the old models of command and control are extinct. He is passionate about this evolution that he has decided to start a successful consulting firm to share what he has learned. The Task Force’s journey towards shared consciousness and smart autonomy start, in 2003 with the stunning realisation by the commander of the world’s most precise and lethal Counter-Terrorism Task Force, that the result of the war was tilting in Al Qaeda’s favour. From there the author interlaces examples and case studies of organisational models, leadership techniques, and technological advances from a variety of areas. They include big data, basketball and soccer, airline customer service, aircraft crews, NASA, plastic surgeons at the Boston Marathon bombing, GM versus Ford, weather forecasting, MIT studies, SEAL training, engineering marvels,and the enduring effects of Ritz Carlton and Nordstrom.
7. The discussions found in the various chapters of the book are wide-ranging but relevant to leading all organisations in this modern world. The following facts highlighted in the book may be of interest to today’s leaders:-
(a) The difference between complicated and complex environments.
(b) How having more information available does not improve prediction nor mean lead to smarter decisions at the top.
(c) Taylorism and efficiency ideals may actually cost you more than they save.
(d) The value of using your best people as ‘liaison officers’ or ’embeds’.
(e) How resilient people make organisations stronger because they can adapt to changing environments.
(f) Learning from your adversary is extremely important they might have a better organisational model not necessarily better people.
(g) How to delegate authority?
(h) How to build trust and a shared awareness of the big picture – ‘eyes on, hands off’ leadership.
8. 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. The details of the successful operations that the “Task Force” undertook after the shift have been described well. The task force invested in trust, transparency and authorised decision making at all levels, the success of which was highlighted in the example of a follow-on-target operation given in the book. The command took risks and luckily their bosses supported them and let them learn to beat Al-Qaeda Intelligence at its own game.
9. The conclusions that the author comes to our simple. Success comes from giving freedom to subordinates, increasing the speed of action, achieving self-synchronisation – in a nutshell by a decentralised command. The concept is literally about getting ‘out of the control’ business and realising that in order for organisations to take advantage of fleeting opportunities teams must be empowered at the lowest levels to take action. General McChrystal echoes this and the need to repeatedly broadcast so that everyone knows the goals and strategy of the organisation. This includes letting everyone in the organisation have a say about the direction of the ship and feel free to alert others of impending icebergs.
10. The author has at the end of every chapter given a block ‘Recap’ of all relevant topics that have been highlighted. A summary of the chapter and a sort of a revision of what he wanted to convey. The summary at the end of each chapter helps the reader collate his thoughts and link them once again to the relevant examples covered in the chapter. Even when the reader refers to the book in the future, a quick glance at the summary at the end of each chapter should be quite effective in recapitulating the essence of each chapter. Thus the subsequent reads of the book will be much simpler and brisk.
10. The Only Shortfall. The book lacks an in-depth deliberation on the importance of planning, strategic thinking, a specific master plan and strategy. The Team of Teams thought process allows organisations to be adaptable and resilient, but there is a definite and irreplaceable role for forethought and strategy. Maybe it’s as straightforward as the old saying ‘the plan is nothing but planning is everything’. One simple reason for this may be the author’s deliberate effort to avoid any classified discussions or data to be included, as this would all be then made available on the open source.
11. Conclusion. The book is only 252 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 General Stan McChrystal describes is getting your team to realise they are empowered to make decisions. This task mostly falls on the senior leaders of an organisation. This method can be exhausting and requires resilient and disciplined leadership at all levels, but the rewards are unmatched. There are lessons for any organisation, to be successful in a complex environment. The book effectively illustrates that whether in war or in business, the ability to react quickly and adapt is critical, and is becoming even more so as technology and disruptive forces increase the pace of change. The focus on new ways to communicate within an organisation and to work together is imperative. All major challenges can be resolved by operational adaptability by establishing a team of teams.
This book shows the reader 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 realise when to change their old ways and trust their people to make rapid yet informed decisions. The focus on harnessing and sharing the power and experiences of many teams is the way to adapt quickly to changing events at the lowest level. This also delivers innovative solutions that may not be achieved by a top-down approach. The book has shown not just how a military team will make a transition to decentralised control, but also how similar shifts are possible in corporate organisations, large companies, startups and also in governments. The author has overall presented a compelling and effective solution.