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The We're Great - You Suck - Phenomenon

I recently read Stanley McChrystal's Team of Teams. As business books go it is a very thorough analysis of the evolution of highly networked teams from their Taylorist origins. He uses many great examples of companies that struggled with different parts of the challenge from information distribution to leadership behavior. As such the book is a great starting point for anyone going to business school. In fact, in many ways, the book feels as though it was written for MBAs as the primary audience. It's rigorously well disciplined in the approach and description of the challenges of working in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, & Ambiguous). Unfortunately, from time to time, I felt like I wanted more of McChrystal's stories of his experience battling Al Queda in Iraq. It's not that those stories aren't there, but for example, you have to wade through the history of Taylor and his manufacturing exploits to get there. McChrystal and company do a reasonable job in the end of tying the business examples and analogies to the battlefield challenges in Iraq. With that said, I really appreciated his description and insights into the typical journey that teams and organizations go through. The first big move is typically from siloed groups of specialists to cross-functional teams. That move by itself is a huge one and leads to a significant improvement in the effectiveness of the company. The simple act of sharing information and responsibility across a small team can have remarkable impact. However, this is often where companies stop. They basically end up in a configuration where they have teams at the bottom of the hierarchy and then the rest of the hierarchy is your typical command and control institution from there on up. So you get some modest benefit, but the organization as a whole is still not particularly adaptive. You still have silos (composed of teams now) and the information sharing and decision making is painfully slow. In fact, you find that teams by themselves are very inwardly focused. In the absence of any coordinating mechanism, teams are just as selfish and uncooperative as individuals in many ways. McChrystal describes it as the "We rock, and you suck" phenomena. It doesn't matter whether you are talking about a team of middle-aged programmers or a team of Navy Seals. Within the team there is usually some esprit de corps (assuming no raging disfunction) that encourages higher performance within the team. However, all too often, those teams treat others outside the team as idiots. This phenomena can be found everywhere from the hallways of Google to the streets of Bagdad. The thing that McChrystal was striving for is one of the most elusive (and important) goals in management. He wanted to create a Team of Teams. He wanted to establish the same kind of high performance found within teams, only across teams. For McChrystal that meant that he had to change the way the management team worked. Pushing decision making as far down the hierarchy as possible and coaching using intent and outcomes to guide the teams. A thread that runs throughout the entire book is the paramount importance of information sharing. To me that is a great way of speaking about the challenge of creating a team of teams in a way that avoids jargon. Overall, I enjoyed the book very much. I could have used more stories about military exploits (Sorry, it's the little kid in me), but as a book that weaves the story of the evolution of networked organizations, it's hard to beat.

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