“Talent alone doesn’t make a great team. You need faith in your colleagues and alignment behind a common goal.”
– United States General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal
If talent isn’t enough, what else is needed?
Fundamental Problem: The U.S. Military, composed of teams of highly talented service men and women, was failing to prevent terrorist attacks.
In 2003, Gen. Stanley McChrystal took command of the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an association of elite forces such as the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Delta Force. His mission: to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq.
JSOC had superior technology, skills, and resources. They were far better organized, with outstanding troops, and they won every individual firefight. “By the summer of 2004, we were also losing,” says McChrystal. “We were doing all the things we’d been taught to do, but they weren’t working like they used to work.”
For over a century, the U.S. military used the following assumption to organize itself and conduct operations:
Hierarchy = Efficiency = Competitive Dominance
Principles of efficiency — breaking a job into smaller tasks and doing each with the least effort and time — were taught in business schools, and businesses thrived because of it, McChrystal says. But in today’s changing environment, with more information shared at ever-greater speeds, often even the most efficient organization can’t keep up. He came to realize that they were using outdated organizational structure, one that prized efficiency above all else, in rapidly evolving, 21st-century conditions that instead favored adaptability.
What was al-Qaida’s strategy?
Unpredictability. E.g. the element of surprise.
In a counter operation, this meant the target objective was frequently unknown – al-Qaida was constantly changing the game on U.S. Military leadership.
What advantages did the terrorist networks have over the U.S. military?
1. Tight coupling of resources linked together in a network organization.
2. Speed of exchange of resources throughout their networks.
How did Gen. McChrystal create organizational adaptability?
1. Cultivating “shared consciousness” across military teams. Shared consciousness can be described as emergent intelligence and awareness – which fosters the capability to quickly organize, share information, and re-organize as threats change and evolve.
2. Melding the design of the classical military hierarchy into network organization. The results:
- Created practical linkages between teams and individuals
- Centralized robust, inclusive communication
- Fostered an atmosphere of participatory transparency
- Decoupled information and control
- Delegated decision making
- Empowered execution
- Developed adaptability at every level of the organization
The result was a star-shaped network organizational design, known as “Crosslead”, similar to the diagram below:
What was Gen. McChrystal’s intuitive formula for Shared Consciousness?
Equation 1: Trust + Purpose + Awareness = Shared Consciousness
Idea: Shared faith and familiarity change the basic calculus between individuals.
Idea: When teams and individuals are highly aware, information is more quickly shared and synthesized.
What was Gen. McChrystal’s intuitive formula for culumlative Team of Team effectiveness under “Crosslead”?
Equation 2: E(n) = E(n-1)*SC(n-1)
- E(n) is the effectiveness of the organization in its entirety.
- E(n-1) is the effectiveness of the organization starting one layer down from the joint leadership team
- SC(n-1) is the shared consciousness of the organization starting one layer down from the joint leadership team
Gen. Stanley McChrystal: Adapt to Win in the 21st Century. Video from the Stanford Graduate School of Business presentation is available at: