Adapt with “radical info sharing and empowered execution”

by | Oct 12, 2015 | Blog | 1 comment

513dRdOldWL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Stop being obsessed with efficiency. Be adaptable instead, especially with “radical information sharing” and “empowered execution.” Adaptability is a more critical competency for our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

That’s the advice of Retired General Stanley McChrystal and his writing partners in their riveting new book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

Organizational structures that value and reward efficiency are outdated in rapidly evolving, unpredictable 21st Century conditions.

Adaptability too often sounds like a buzzword—a feel-good aspiration rather than a crispy action to do.

General McChrystal, however, puts some hard edges around adaptability. To him, it “fuses a radical sharing of information with extreme decentralization of decision-making authority.”

Yes, this means allowing information to flow free—up, down and across. It also means embedding decision-making ability, action and accountability at all levels of the organization, not just at the top of the hierarchy.

Based on his experiences trying to defeat al-Quaida in Iraq from 2003 to 2008, General McChrystal maintains that traditional organizations can’t react fast enough to changing conditions if they continue to rely on leaders (the “thinkers”) making all the decisions and giving orders to the workers (the “doers”).

To win these days, you’ve got to get things right quickly enough to win, not just get things right, believes General McChrystal. In his role as commander of the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command in 2003, he directed an association of elite forces, including the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Delta Force.

While his teams had superior technology, skills, and resources, they were losing against the small, nimble, highly-networked enemy. He realized the traditional organization structure that prized efficiency was a barrier—especially the efficiency of providing information to a limited number of people, often those only at the top who had a “need to know.”

The extreme complexity we face also impedes leaders in traditional organizations, especially if we view them as “heroic leaders” who either have all the answers or can get them. Our brains just can’t manage the sheer volume of information that exists today. (For more about this, see Outsource and organize to improve performance, which refers to Daniel Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

So freeing up the information flow and giving access to all, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was able to change the “thinkers” into “doers” and the “doers” into “thinkers” so everybody became both a “thinker and a doer.”

It still wasn’t that simple. In order for the special teams to share good information with one another, they need to:

  • Trust each other.
  • Believe they have a common purpose.
  • Have a shared consciousness about what to do with all the shared information.

When that was in place, it led to “empowered execution”—team members at all ranks and in all services being able to do the right things quickly without having to go up the chain of command.

Good information sharing still doesn’t come naturally to everyone, even if they have the “will,” which McChrystal’s teams did.

Individuals also need the “skill” (ability) and they have to get over the “hill” (any barriers in their way.) In terms of ability, in my experience, it’s helpful if individuals learn to do the following five things:

  1. Treat information more like milk than gold. These days, information expires, just like milk and delicate produce. You need to use it or lose it. You cannot hold onto it and expect to be powerful like the old days.
  1. Speak and write in sound bites. They help you clarify what you need to get across, and done well, they’re easy to remember. (See 10 tips for sound bites with substance.)
  1. Use talking points. Talking points help you stay focused, emphasizing what’s interesting and useful, especially providing the WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”). They also help you remember to provide context and make connections. See Embrace talking points as a springboard.)
  1. Engage with others, not “tell and sell.” Communication is a conversation. Provide plenty of opportunities for people to ask questions and share their points of view. (See Involve not inform to increase ROI.)
  1. Listen carefully. Pay attention to what others are saying and how they’re saying it. You’ll learn valuable information, plus you’ll get ideas on how to improve how you’re communicating with others. (See Listen with feeling.)

Even when individuals aren’t yet highly skilled in how to share information, they can still have a positive impact by taking baby steps. And if their leaders are role-modeling information sharing, everyone else is more likely to start practicing and getting better at it.

Here’s hoping leaders will follow General McChrystal and set a great example for being very modern leaders in our VUCA world.

After all, when a retired four-star general recommends decoupling the traditional relationship between information and control and radically sharing information and pushing decisions down in the organization, we need to pay attention and act.

What will you do to help your organization become more adaptable?

1 Comment

  1. Keith Plemmona

    General McChrystal describes the people side of the transformative changes happening in our economy. Almost every page had a nugget worth applying. He uses his military experience to illustrate what is happening in the business world. Technology, especially connective technology, enables decision loops to be tight and the available information to be rich. The players who apply the technology wisely in their business models will position themselves to win.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *