Book Review: Team of Teams

book cover imageMcChrystal, Stanley A. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Portfolio, Penguin, 2015.

Stanley McChrystal now teaches leadership courses at Yale, but he is best known as the four star general who commanded the elite combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2009. McChrystal led the Joint Special Operations Task Force, a world class team that combined the resources of Navy SEALS, Air Force Rangers and Army Special Forces. In Team of Teams, he uses his leadership experience in Iraq to argue that the speed and interdependence in today’s world have created levels of complexity that require all organizations, including those in business, education and medicine, to adapt to continual change.

When the book begins, Saddam Hussein has already been unseated, but a bitter struggle in Iraq follows and the terrorists are winning. While McChrystal’s forces are far better equipped and trained, they face an environment for which they are unprepared. The enemy is agile, innovative and resilient, an extensive network of fighters with local autonomy but with access to instant communications with their leadership. While McChrystal’s troops are superior, they are losing ground. McChrystal realizes that to beat the enemy, he must transform his command to be like his adversaries. His own elite fighters must become more flexible and innovative, empowered to make on-the-spot, life-and-death decisions.

The military uses extreme training to create trust and common purpose on elite teams. McChrystal keeps these teams intact, but he breaks down the silos within the Task Force and replaces them with a “team of teams” organization with strong lateral ties. McChrystal converts his headquarters into a single open space with a wall of screens at the front that are shared by all. He uses transparent communication, a radical sharing of information about their operations, to create a shared consciousness. Everyone on the organizational chart accesses complete information from across the network, previously restricted to senior leaders. On the field, interdependent and fully informed operational teams make individual decisions in real time.

Under the new model, the commander’s role changes from planning, directing and decision making to communicating and enabling, which McChrystal terms “Eyes On-Hands Off.” Leading the adaptive organization requires shaping the ecosystem and nurturing cooperation among teams on a regular basis. Leaders must guide and inspire, working continually to maintain a culture that is flexible and durable. Leaders also update their organizations continually because in constantly changing environments there are no permanent fixes.

Team of Teams includes examples from many industries, including aerospace and medicine. Examples from the military are riveting. This book is recommended to all leaders.

Also available as an eBook on OverDrive and as an audiobook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply