One Mission

How leaders build a team of teams

Thesis of Team of Teams: 20th century military models were misaligned with information-age war: with the speed and interconnectivity of modern conflict.

Thesis of One Mission: How can large organizations move with the speed and agility of a small team? (1)

Four key drivers: (1)

  1. Team members trust each other
  2. Team members are bound by a common purpose
  3. Team members have a shared consciousness; common understanding of problem set, key info, and next direction
  4. Team members follow empowered execution: acting with high autonomy, high accountability

Tribal narratives (my team is the best at what it does) help team cohesion, but hurt inter-team collaboration; usually such teams are functional enough, but the organization is fragile (15).

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had an "inclusive shared narrative" and a "well-communicated strategic vision." Their fluid operational structure helped spread that narrative and allowed easy collaboration. The US military was "unit-centric" while the AQI was organization-centric. (15)

"We were a strictly ordered machine equal only to the sum of our parts; they were an organic movement." (16)

In response, the Task Force began to adopt an aligning narrative, based on the following equation: Credibility = Proven Competence + Integrity + Relationships. (17)

Credibility allows "more speed and decentralized autonomy." (17)

The units already have proven competence + integrity, but were missing relationships with each other. (18)

In earlier centuries, information moved at a max of horseback speed. To organize an army required the resources of the state (to enforce order, train marching patterns, maintain roads). Nation-state armies thus dominated war. Now, with instant communication, "disorganized collections of individuals could disrupt our operations in a non-linear manner." (21)

In a traditional bureaucracy, managers are "information pumps"; they don't produce anything, they just facilitate cooperation between teams "through the limited bureaucratic means available to them." They quickly become the bottleneck. (31-33)

Hayek's Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which we in fact do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm [...][man] cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible." (38)

Bureaucracies are stable, static; networks are flexible, dynamic. Networks are fast becoming the dominant organizational model, but "they lack central planning and are driven purely by narrative." (38, 40)

A vague mission like "Defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq" can mean different things to different teams, and be twisted to serve a unit's own agenda. (51)

Balancing action/analysis: Overthinking is dangerous, but so is "getting involved in the minutiae of a partially baked idea and believing that pursuing it is the same as making progress on the original problem." So the challenge is to keep the original problem in mind, while acting. (130)

Big problem in hierarchies: people at lower levels have tighter decision loops, and people at higher levels have longer decision loops (i.e. tactical vs strategic). Ground-level teams might want to act on information quickly, but need to wait for the slower decision-making from up top. This leads to missed opportunities. To close this loop, have an opportunity for shared consciousness (a regular sync meeting) after which teams can act autonoously (since they understand the leadership's goals). (141)

In between gaps in shared consciousness syncing (i.e. company- or org-wide meetings), the manager's job is to ensure teams can act autonomously: giving them all the resources and intelligence they need to do so. (145)

Prime directives for teams at Under Armour:

  • "Look for opportunities to network in order to tackle problems"
  • "Know your own data, and provide appropriate analysis" (155)

Decision space: a clearly articulated + specific definition of what actions a given team has autonomy over (162)

Barriers to effective decision making: hesitance (fear of making the wrong choice) and deviance (stepping beyond the norms of the organization). Hesitance often comes from fear of deviance, though deviance could be positive (surprising success) or negative. (163)

Decision spaces should be variable; as teams and leaders grow in competence, they get more space. Newbie leaders have to "check in" often. (176)

Get my monthly reading list

A short, once-a-month email of useful articles & guides: the best of what I write, and the best of what I find.

Sign up now and get a free copy of my mini-guide, "How to Accelerate Your Developer Career".