I’ve read most of retired General Stanley McChrystal’s excellent book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (I start a lot of books and finish a few). Amazon reminds me that I bought the book just over two years ago.
I meant to blog about it and never got around to it (I have a lot of ideas about posts and write a few). McChrystal, in connecting his lessons learned from helping reshape the military and, in particular, the special forces, to the business world ends up talking a lot about issues and history near and dear to those of us working with Lean as a methodology.
His guest list includes a number of folks I know or know of (click on their names for the episode):
- Jim Benson, of Personal Kanban and other work (listen to my podcast with him)
- Jabe Bloom, who I’ve met in Lean Startup circles, if memory is correct
- Melissa Perri, who has been involved in the Lean Startup and Toyota Kata communities
- Håkan Forss, creator of this amazing LEGO version of this classic cartoon
- Will Evans, who I only know from Twitter, but has been active in LEI circles
- John Seddon, of Freedom from Command and Control (a book I appreciate, regardless of some of Seddon’s behavior over the years – Amazon reminds me I bought it in 2007… and I read it all). I also listened to this episode and appreciated what was said.
You can also listen to it through iTunes (as I did).
Here are some highlights with time stamps and me quoting or paraphrasing stuff I think is fantastic:
[12:30] Q: How did you work with people who weren’t on board with change?
McChrystal says with mature adults you can’t be “directive,” you “have to influence people.” And “part of influencing people is to listen to them.” He says “there’s an awful lot of respect involved in allowing that dialogue to occur.” If people have input, they’re more likely to buy in.
He talks about people “feeling as if they’ve been represented.”
My comment: The only thing I take issue with is that I hear talk from healthcare leaders about wanting staff “to feel like they have input.” I try to gently suggest that actually having input is better than being made to “feel” like they have input. But I trust that’s not what McChrystal really meant.
[15:50] Q: If you advocate sharing information and data freely, isn’t there a risk that you lose control?
McChrystal says, “Control is a fallacy now. You think you’ve got control if you’re at the top. But the reality is you don’t know what’s happening down low, nor can you respond as fast as the environment is changing. So, you’ve got to give up a measure of control. You’ve got to inform and educate people closer to the point of action and you’ve got to trust them.”
[17:00] “If you’re sharing a lot of information, you’re more resilient. You’re not nearly as brittle.”
As I blogged about here, “the decision makers” shouldn’t be a term that refers only to executives, as I’ve heard some people say.
Back to McChrystal… he talks about Frederick Taylor, as he did in the book. Taylor is associated (fair or unfairly) with taking work and breaking it up into small chunks that can be done by anybody, in isolation from others.
[19:00] “If you talk about Adam Smith or Frederick Taylor, we want to demonize them now. In reality, I think if you pulled either of them into today’s world, both of them were interested in outcomes… and in the industrial revolution, efficiency gave a great outcome. And I’d argue that Frederick Taylor would probably look at that thing, he’d do reductionism and he’s say ‘that doesn’t work anymore.’ It’s not the most effective thing… and he’d come to this conclusion [that it’s better to encourage teamwork instead of silos and specialization].”
But, he wrote this about Taylor in the book:
“Taylor told workers, “I have you for your strength and mechanical ability. We have other men paid for thinking.” In the book that became the bible of his movement, The Principles of Scientific Management, he portrayed laborers as idiots, mocking their syntax and describing them as “mentally sluggish.”
Maybe he’s right that Taylor was a product of his time and he would have worked differently today. He also writes about how Taylor and that thinking of reductionism and efficiency was very influential to military thinking, but times and needs changed. So, McChrystal helped the special forces evolve in much-needed ways.
Check out the podcast… I think you’ll find it thought provoking and stimulating. He also talks about the need for senior leaders to “walk the walk” if you’re trying to change the organization and you have to change processes, including about how you share information. You have to change processes to become more agile, not just send a few people off to training. Of course they’re going to get frustrated if “the organization hasn’t changed.”
Here are some of the notes and highlights I have in my Kindle version of the book.
On the traditional top-down, command-and-control structure of the military and why he needed to help shift that culture because of a new enemy and a changing world:
“In battle, refusal or hesitation to follow orders can spell disaster. But at the same time, the rigid hierarchy and absolute power of officers slows down execution and stifles rapid adaptation by the soldiers closest to the fight. When a subordinate must spend time seeking detailed guidance from a distant officer in order to respond to a rapidly evolving opportunity, the price for traditional order and discipline becomes too high.”
“The chains of command that once guaranteed reliability now constrained our pace;”
“and finding ways to reverse the information flow–to ensure that when the bottom spoke the top listened–was one of the challenges we would have to overcome.”
Instead of order always coming from the top down,
“order can emerge from the bottom up, as opposed to being directed, with a plan, from the top down.”
McChrystal also writes about how healthcare can learn and is learning from aviation safety, something I’ve talked to two podcast guests about:
McChrystal also sounded like Dr. W. Edwards Deming when he decried internal competition within a company (as I wrote about here a long time ago):
“Some of the twentieth century’s most fabled executives extolled this “competitive spirit,” purposefully pitting individual workers and departments against one another. Jack Welch introduced the “stack ranking” system, where employees constantly saw themselves assessed relative to others, an approach that became popular with leaders in other industries. Encouragement to collaborate tends to be more of a bumper sticker slogan than an actual managerial practice. In an interdependent environment, however, collaboration may be necessary to survival.”
There’s too much interesting or provocative stuff to cover in one blog post. Thanks to Sami for the podcast and for reminding me about the book.
What did you think about the podcast or the book?