Business culture · Culture · Learning · Relationships

Team of teams by General Stanley McChrystal – leading teams to work effectively together

The book has a few essential ideas which are worth while but it takes quite a lot of background to get to them. Below are my key takeaways.

The context for McChrystal was trying to get specialist units in very different parts of the military, who each worked incredibly effectively in their specific area, to form a cohesive whole to adapt to rapidly changing situations in Iraq Eg. Getting Army Rangers, working with Navy Seals, with airforce, with the NSA and with the CIA. Each branch tended to create its own cohesion creating tightly knit teams but resulting in territorial behaviour and collectively failing to complete their missions.

The basic message is that in the the 20th century progress was made through industrial efficiency with perfectly planned production processes around complicated problems but with perfectly predictable outcomes that engineer can solve. In these structures vertical command and control management worked effectively with each team operating efficiently but limited need for close interaction between teams.

In the 21st century, in modern organisations, we face problems of complexity, networked systems where small perturbations can lead to unpredictable outcomes. To operate in complex problems we need to be able to function with much greater flexibility and adaptability, connecting disparate information, and making quick decisions with dynamic and changing plans. To do this requires a very different management style for our organisations.

His prescription is three fold

1. A need for complete information sharing across all teams to create contextual awareness across teams and a “shared consciousness”

2. A need for strong trust between teams with multiple connection points, to create a team-of-teams type operating mentality

3. The need for the right type of leadership creating an environment of “empower execution” , where the leader is focused on culture and prioritisation to drive the team dynamic

Taking each of those in turn

1. The need for information sharing across teams

  • “In a domain characterised by interdependencies, what ever efficiency is gained through silos is outweighed by the costs of “interface failures””
  • Emergent intelligence between teams can be achieved in larger organisations willing to commit to the disciplined deliberate sharing of information
  • Fuse generalised awareness, “shared consciousness” with specialised expertise
  • To achieve this there needs to be common purpose.
  • Emphasis on group success to spur trust, cooperation and common purpose.
  • To do this they created a daily common forum, using technology, like a global video conference where everyone called in from all of the world. Anyone from any team could participate, everyone had access to all the information with almost total transparency.
  • The success of this depended on it being quality useful information rather than beautifully dressed up rehearsed message sending.
  • The update piece from a team outlining their facts would be short eg 60 seconds, then there would be 2 to 3 minutes of open questioning and conversation from leadership. Key is active listening and real exploration, potentially followed by some perspective or framing from the senior team, but then letting the individual team decide how they would proceed. Allowed all teams to see problems being solved real time and the perspectives of senior leadership team. This gave teams confidence and permission to solve their own problems, rather than having to have decisions come from the top.
  • Think about the physical space and the way you go about doing this information sharing carefully, but also about your decision making procedures.
  • Information was shared widely without constraint. As information was shared, it encouraged others to share.

2. Creating real trust and collaboration between teams

  • The key issue is that good collaboration between teams requires sacrifice (of resources or achievement in one area) on behalf of each team for the greater good. This happens any time there are scare resources, eg engineering resources working for something good for one team or something else for another team.
  • In Game theory the prisoners dilemma type problem illustrates a situation where the individually dominant strategy (betrayal, taking the resource to further your own ends) is suboptimal to the collectively dominant strategy (cooperation but sacrifice of the resource to the greater good). Even with wholistic awareness of the situation the prisoner still has to take a leap of faith in trusting the other party.
  • The dominant strategy in a multi round game is to start with cooperation and then to always follow what the other person did in the previous round. If they betrayed you, you betray them in the next round as punishment. If they cooperate you continue to cooperate. The punishment only lasts as long as the bad behaviour continues and stops as soon as there is cooperation. A track record of cooperation at a certain point then becomes the norm and trust builds.
  • Leaps of faith are only possible when there are real relationships of trust between individuals on the different teams.
  • To build trust they encouraged individuals from one unit to spend a secondment with another unit, to be a liaison officer with that unit. And they encouraged the teams to send their best people on these assignments. People capable of building relationships even in an initially hostile environment on another team, people with low ego. They encouraged the units “if giving up this person does not cause you pain, you are sending the wrong person”
  • They supplied the liaison officer with continued intelligence and information that would be useful to the unit they were in, and gave them access to the senior team so that when a liaison officer called in a favour, they could deliver value to that team.
  • This built a system where teams got more out of accepting these liaisons and were then willing to commit their own best people to do the same in reciprocation.
  • When it comes to sharing scarce resources, if teams can understand why and how their resources will make a difference somewhere else they are much more willing to make the sacrifice of giving up that resource.

Together, the strong sharing of information around a common shared purpose, and a strong bond of trust and mutual cooperation at multiple levels between teams create the ground for “shared consciousness” across teams. Hence the books title team of teams.

3. The role of leadership

So their aim is coordinated operations that exhibit an emergent adaptive intelligence, decentralised control with empowered decision making built around a shared consciousness and information. The role of leadership is to enable all of that.

  • The role of a leader is to build, lead and maintain a culture that is flexible and durable.
  • Don’t misinterpret empowerment. Simply taking off constraints can be dangerous
  • It should only be done if the recipients of new found authority have the necessary sense of perspective to act on it wisely.
  • Team leaders and members can be free to make decisions as long as they provide full visibility under the “shared consciousness” model. They have to provide sufficient clear information to leadership and other teams about what they are doing.
  • It’s an “eyes on – hands off” model of leadership.
  • The objective is “smart autonomy”, not total autonomy, because everyone is tightly linked in a shared consciousness with the same purpose.
  • The role of the senior leader is “empathetic crafter of culture, rather than the puppet master”. It’s a gardner creating the right environment rather than the heroic leader or chess master taking all the big decisions.
  • The leader should be taking fewer decisions, but should be keeping the organisation focused on clearly articulated priorities.
  • This leadership comes from consistently explicitly talking about what the priorities are but also demonstrating the way the team should operate, leading by example,
  • Less is more, focus on only a few key messages and repeat them consistently. Nothing is learned until it’s been heard multiple times, and it’s only sunk in when it’s echoed back in the words of others.
  • Your strongest form of communication is your own behaviour.
  • Eg. Information sharing sessions never cancelled and attendance mandatory
  • The rules for any meeting are established more by precedent and demonstrated behaviour than by written guidance.
  • Be clear on your central role as a leader. To lead, to inspire, to understand, to guide, to prioritise
  • Watch the small behaviours. If you look bored, if you are unprepared you send a message. Interest and enthusiasm are your most powerful behaviours. Prepare, ask questions, demonstrate you have really listened, compliment work publicly, suggest improvement privately, and say thank you often.
  • Get the balance of reporting information vs active interaction right for the meeting. Get the right level of candour through the way you interact.
  • Think out loud, summarise what you have heard, how you process the information, outline your thoughts on how we might proceed, ask the team members what would be an appropriate response and what they plan to do. Ask for opinions and advice. Admit when you don’t know. Empower them to take the decisions.
  • Develop the art of asking good questions. Questions that help people arrive at the answers and see errors for themselves.
  • Be careful of overcommitment on your schedule, when you cancel people get disappointed, work done preparing for meeting with you is wasted.
  • Avoid a reductionist approach, no matter how tempting micromanaging a situation may be. The leaders first responsibility is to to the whole, to the big picture, no matter how good they may be at the particular situation.
Business culture · decision making · Learning · Philosophy

Deep Work by Cal Newport

  • The basic idea behind this book is that in an age of increasing distraction, being able to really concentrate and do deep focused work is a super-power. He spends the first half of the book explaining why he believes this is the case and the second half offering some really pragmatic strategies for achieving this.

    Deep work is completely undistracted, focused problem solving, in a state of “flow”, where we do our most meaningful work. We can only really achieve this for between 1 and at most four hours a day. But very few of us achieve even the one hour, true deep work is rare. Mos to the time spent responding to emails, in meetings etc. Is not facilitating deep work. Most of us proxy business for deep work, they are not the same thing.

    His key insight is: developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life design to minimise the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

    He sets out 4 depth philosophy’s

    1. Become a monk. Set your entire life up to minise distraction and do only deep work

    2. Become a monk some of the time: A bimodal philosphy where for parts of the year you are able to become completely isolated and work intensely

    3. Have a rhythmic schedule to doing deep work every week, clear well defined periods where you will be uninterrupted – this is probably the most practical for most of us

    4. Journalistic approach, jumpy into deep work with every spare minute of time, as journalists are trained to do because they often work to tight deadlines. The main challenge here is the context switching which makes getting into a deep work mindset very challenging.

    He then has a series of very practical suggestions to maximise your deep work and its impact.

    Ritualise your deep work

    • Have a specific place to do deep work
    • Decide for how long you will do it, and don’t be over ambitious to begin with
    • Decide how you will work eg. Ban internet and email completely, have a cup of coffee before hand
    • Keep track of how much time you actually do it, in a clear visible place eg. On a calendar, see if you can build up a habit of tracking and expanding the time you do deep work
    • Commit to it with grand gestures eg. Money, time commitment, public commitment, stuff that will make you more psychologically committed to achieving it.

    Interestingly he is not saying it has to be in complete isolation. There are many examples of good collaboration producing meaningful work and often improving the quality of thinking but this probably comes through an approach of coming together meaningfully and then separating out meaningfully again.

    Don’t just know what you need to do, also focus on how you will execute.

    • Focus on the wildly important. Identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work don’t try to do too much.
    • Focus on lead measures, not the results. Lead measures are the things that you can control that drive success that create the output eg. The time you spend on deep work.
    • Keep a scoreboard
    • Create a cadence of accountability: confront the scoreboard, with a team eg. A weekly review, identify when it went well and when it went poorly why and what could be done to improve it.

    He also emphasise the need to create mental space around the deep work. When you work, work hard, when you are done be done.

    • Down time aids insights, give you unconscious mind time to untangle more complex problems
    • We suffer from Attention fatigue. Having walks especially in nature very helpful. Exercise probably has a similar effect, Having “inherently fascinating stimuli” that fascinate the mind but do not tax it in terms of directed concentration and decision making is very restorative to the mind
    • Have a shutdown ritual: as you complete your work day, identify incomplete tasks, capture them where you can and let you brain know that you have a plan for how to complete it, and then ritualise leaving your work behind you and switching off to it.
    • Embrace boredom and specifically here, don’t fill it up with constant stimuli, overcome our desire for constant distraction. People who multitask all the time cannot filter out irrelevancy. We are wired for distraction and crave it, more so in the social media age. His specific recommendation here is to “schedule the occasional break from focus to give into distraction” rather than let distraction be the default in our down time. Eg. Schedule when you watch Tv or browse the internet or check the news.

    Other suggestions

    • Work with intensity like Teddy Roosevelt: schedule high intensity work and give yourself a drastically shorter hard deadline than you would ordinarily give yourself to get the task done, though it must still be feasible. Do this only once a week to begin with and then systematically increase it.
    • Productive meditation: take a period when you are occupied physically but not mentally eg. Walking, showering, exercising, and focus your attention singularly on a well defined problem you are working on, and specifically what part of it you need to think through next. When your mind wanders away from it bring your attention back to it.

    He then makes various suggestions to limit the impact and time spent on shallow work or not important goals

    • Select the tools (specifically networking and digital information tools) that you use very carefully to maximise your chances of success at your key goals. Identify your key goals and the factors that will determine success and adopt a tool only if its positive impacts substantially outweigh the negative.
    • 80 % of your productivity comes from 20 % of your activity/tools etc. Cut out the other 80 % ruthlessly to allow more time on the 20 % that makes the biggest difference. Eg. Cut out social media

    Manage your schedule ruthlessly

    • Put more thought and structure into your leisure time evenings and weekends.
    • Schedule every minute of every day. That does not mean you have to stick to the schedule, if something else comes up that is more important, change the schedule but it forces you to be thoughtful about the day and how you are spending your time. Including scheduling time for the admin and the unexpected. This also helps improve your realism about how long different tasks take.
    • Quantify the depth of every task (how long would this task take you to teach someone else to do?)
    • Set your self very strict work time allowances and a fixed time by which you need to have finished your work day eg. 8 hours a day, finished by 5:30, once everyone has less time to get their work done they respect that time even more, people become stingy with their time and don’t waste it doing things that just don’t matter.
    • Decide what percentage of your time should be spent on shallow work vs deep work and get your boss to agree that.
    • This changes perspective:any obligation beyond your deep work objectives is potentially disruptive.

    Manage other people’s demands on your time

    • The most dangerous word in managing your productivity is saying “yes”
    • Become hard to reach
    • Manage your email
    • eg. On email train people not to expect a response and have people filter out what they send you themselves and what sort of response to expect from you.
    Business culture · Learning

    Great questions #2

    I like to collect great questions, they motivate me towards deeper thinking and insights. The questions you ask can drive change in your life. So I will be adding a more regular set of question posts to this blog to remind myself of the interesting questions I come across that I want to ask myself. (Great questions #1 was the post on asking Why 5 times)

    Episode two is a series of questions that Debbie Millman (designer, creator of the Design Matters podcast and lecturer on design in New York) asks of her design students when they think about their careers:

    • Am I spending enough time on looking for, finding and working towards winning a great job?
    • Am I constantly learning and refining my skills?
    • What can I continue to get better and more competitive at ?
    • Do I believe I am working harder than everyone else? If not what can and should I be doing in order to be able to accomplish that?
    • What are the people who are competing with me doing, that I am not doing?
    • Am I doing everything I can, every day, to stay in career shape? If not what else should I be doing?

    What to ignore or not do in her opinion:

    • Don’t try to be a people person. Have a point of view, share it meaningfully, respectfully and with conviction.
    • She does not believe in work life balance. When your work is your calling, it is a labour of love. You don’t count the minutes. Work can be a life affirming engagement. In you are in your 20s and 30s, if you want a life affirming career, you must work hard, if you don’t work harder than others you will not get ahead. If you are doing something you love you don’t want work life balance, you want to do what you love as often as possible.

    With regards to the latter, while I don’t completely agree with Debbie I understand the sentiment behind what she is saying. I think the key is her phrase, “when work is your calling”. What is “your calling” today?

    I would perhaps rephrase as: decide very clearly where your long term priorities are, what “your calling” is: which relationships are important, what are the things you love to do and want to do, and how do you prioritise those? Write down the list, and make that list a list of only the essentials: as small and focused as possible. And then go all in on these priorities: focus with real intensity on these and cut out the other distractions in your life.

    And finally, these priorities will probably change throughout your life. Mine are certainly different in my 40s from my 20s. That’s okay, be sure to reappraise them regularly. Once a year at least, once a quarter even better. I have mine written down and pinned next to my to do list so that I am reminded of them at least once a week.

    Business culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

    Building trust

    The foundation of all healthy relationships is trust. The foundation of being able to have good, honest and open debates that make our business better is trust. It’s the foundation for being able to get an honest assessment of business partners. So being able to build trust is an essential skill.

    Robin Dreeke is a former FBI agent who headed the behavioural program at the FBI and has authored a book called “The Code of Trust”. He has spent his life figuring out how to motivate people and for him much of it boils down to developing genuine trust which then allows the achievement of common goals. In this podcast with Kevin Rose he has some fascinating suggestions and insights.

    What drives trust?

    Due to the benefits of cooperation, humans have learnt through evolution that affiliation is necessary. Humans are constantly testing their environment for affiliation by sharing their thoughts and opinions and challenges, and seeking to be accepted for who they are. If you are able to non-judgementally (I.e. suspend your ego) accept those thoughts, opinions and seek to understand them more, people will trust you.

    So the key to developing trust with someone is

    Understand who they are, where they have come from

    Understand what their priorities are

    Make yourself a resource for their priorities and prosperity: making their lives better in some way you control.

    Cultivating trust

    If you want to create an affiliation, make someone feel valued or start to gain someone’s tolerance (ie even if they are hostile) or trust, you have to do one or more of the following things:

    1. Seek their thoughts and opinions. We only do this when we value some one and this demonstrates we value them

    2. Talk in terms of their priorities

    3. Validate them. Even when you disagree, seeking to understand their perspective is validation.

    4. Empower them with choice, because we don’t give choice to people unless we value them

    Try and build one or more of those into every interaction.

    Developing Trust is 100% based on the other person, they have to trust at their own pace, and you have to focus 100% on them and not your own priorities.

    Ways to develop and inspire trust in some one.

    1. Suspend your ego. Its about them not you. Get over your self, your vanity, your title and your position.

    2. Cultivate a happy healthy relationship – always try to foster this with every interaction

    3. Open and honest communication to demonstrate transparency about your intentions.

    4. Make yourself an available resource for their prosperity, with no expectation of reciprocity.

    5. Exercise patience. If the situation does not allow for patience then focus on transparency.

    How does this interact with your own goals?

    Ie. If you want to convince someone to work with you on something or do something, how does it work if you are just focused on them as per the advice above?

    Be very clear with yourself on what your own goals are beforehand. Label them and know them. Then let them go. Once you have clarity on the goal in your own head you don’t have to try hard to achieve it in the interactions. It will just pop up naturally because you know what your goal is. Once you have your goal clear you can then focus completely and genuinely on the other person.

    Inspire don’t convince

    People spend most of their lives trying to convince people of things, that something is in their best interests. Give up on that. You really can’t convince people of anything very successfully. Rather ask how can inspire people to want to do something.

    If I am thinking of convincing you, I am thinking of myself. If I am thinking of inspiring you, I am thinking of you.

    If I want to inspire some one I have to understand whats important to them and I have to have resources that I can make available to them to help them achieve it.

    How do you have deep challenging conversations?

    It depends on the relationship and it depends on your goal.

    If there is unconditional trust and you are both vested in each other unconditionally (usually only possible with very close friends and colleagues where trust has been established) you can share open and honest thoughts about the world as long as you are not demonstrating judgement of their thoughts and opinions. However in many situations that level of trust does not exist and you need to be able to develop the trust in the situation to allow the challenging conversation to be heard.

    If you don’t agree with someone and you want them to hear your opinion how do you go about it?

    Humans have an incessant need to want to correct others. When you disagree, shields go up, and people try to convince you. Agreeing to disagree is not a solution, it ends in disagreement.

    The worst thing to do is to tell them you don’t agree with them at all and tell them what you think.

    The best way is to ask and genuinely seek to understand their perspective, “tell me what you think, let me understand it better”, and after they have shared their opinions with you, ask them to help you think about your perspective. Then present your perspective and ask for their thoughts and opinions about your perspective. Ie the focus remains on them.

    Building trust with someone you have just met in a short time

    1. Plan to be genuine and transparent. If there is and sense subterfuge or manipulation (which by definituon will be for your own well-bein, prospertiy or agenda) trust is lost in an instant. That sense of subterfuge is created by any incongruence between your actions and your words. To counter this your primary tool is transparency.

    2. Do things to demonstrate an affiliation and commonality, it has to be truthful and accurate. Be thoughtful. Choose a location where the person will feel comfortable. What we wear, will it make them comfortable?

    3. Validate a specifc (be as specific as possible) non-judgemental strength, attribute or action of the individual. Eg. “I learnt so much that I have applied in my own life from your book.” This must be completely true and honest, you are not sucking up to them. If you know of nothing else genuine to validaite, then can just acknowledge that their time is important. Specifically proscribe how much of their time you will take, create a time constraint (eg 30seconds, 30 minutes) and honour that commitment.

    4. The next thing you say must be something that is important to them. Offer them something that is important to them in terms of their needs, wants or aspirations. If possible make sure you know what they are interested in or want before hand. If you don’t know anything but you need something from them, be open and honest about what you want and ask them about what is important to them and they want.

    Creating common ground with someone:

    Focus on any common experience or recent challenge. Eg. The weather.

    Ask them about what challenges they face in their work, life… people will share their priorities in this sort of question.

    Ask about their childhood, family traditions, everyone has family traditions so even if you have different backgrounds and traditions you create common ground.

    Another potential motivator: We are genetically coded to want to provide assistance to others through our inbuilt principle of reciprocity. The likelihood of getting someone to do something is higher if they are providing assistance to someone else.

    How do you ensure you are not perceived as manipulative?

    Manipulators use broad stroke one liners “hey you did a great job last week”, they don’t have time, they are on a mission to take advantage and get what they want. People who are genuine take the time to dive down into the specifics. Demonstrating granularity demonstrates you took the time to understand them at a deep level as a human being.

    How do you deal with toxic people or remove poison from a difficult relationship you have to deal with?

    Depends on the situation.

    Understand what they are trying to do. They may not understand what their own destination is. So if someone is unaware of their own impact ask them “what is it you are actually trying to achieve?” If they are clear, then “how is this helping you get there, and can I help you with that”

    Many people have insecurities. When people have insecurities they may react by constantly shifting the goalposts purposefully or unconsciously to manipulate you to keep you emotionally highjacked. If you identify this, know that you are not going to get a different result engaging with them. Don’t allow yourself to be collateral damage to someone else’s insecurities. If you can identify what their specific insecurities are, then attempt to validate them in that specific area, because that will calm them down. That also gives you an understanding of their pain and what drives them. If that doesn’t work then aim to neutralise their impact on yourself and others around you. Mitigate their behaviour by attempting to not let their behaviour effect you emotionally. Ultimately know that it’s not about you, it’s about them.

    Even when there is no trust eg. After a relationship has broken down, there are still “cause and effect actions” eg. What would you both agree on is any common end goal and work backwards and ask about whether some action will help achieve the final goal.

    Building long term relationships and networks

    If you honour this approach and leave people feeling better for having met you, then you don’t have to invest a lot of time to constantly keep the relationship up, you can pick it up when your priorities cross over again. This allows you to develop an ever increasing network, where every time you do touch, be thoughtful, make the engagement and touch point about them and not you, with no expectations and continue to build the trust and relationship.

    Here is the link to the podcast

    The code of trust from The Kevin Rose Show in Podcasts.