Team of Teams

Learn about the advantages of working in teams, and as a team of teams.

None of us has the privilege of knowing what tomorrow offers. You could be in the middle of an important meeting when your computer suddenly crashes, or you could be at the peak of your game when an important business partner declared bankruptcy, or a business competitor suddenly gets the upper hand. We have no way of knowing. So, should these situations arise, how would you cope?

By working with the right team—or teams of teams.

These blinks will give you an idea of how organizations should be operated as a team of teams. These will also educate you on how to welcome the adaptability that an organization needs to confront the sudden threats to the business.

You’ll learn:

  • Why today’s madness for efficiency is indeed mad

  • How to prepare your organization for unpredictable threats and challenges

  • What a plane crash at Portland’s airport and an emergency landing in the Hudson River can teach you about the structure of your organization

In our complex world, efficiency shouldn’t be the ultimate goal.

It does not matter what your job is, efficiency and its concept should not be news to you. You are absolutely applying it even just with the simplest tasks as soon as you get to your office desk. Like, fixing your pencils, for instance.

Efficiency is one of the ultimate goals when doing business. In fact, it is a trait widely recognized as worth achieving. If you notice, most successful organizations set efficiency as the principal goal. From life hacks to managing a successful company, we all obsess over efficiency.

It all started back in 1900 when Quaker Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the foundations of scientific management. It states that through various work processes measurement, one could shave off every second throughout the whole production process. And this process can produce great results.

However, in a more complicated reality, efficiency does not always equal success.

The ever-so-rapid development of information technology has caused some changes in the game of efficiency. Information technology has become more interdependent and much faster, which causes even more unpredictable results.

You probably have heard the theory about a butterfly’s wings in New York can start a hurricane in China. Same goes with this theory, a YouTube video can start a revolution just as it did in 2010 when a man names Tarek raised a voce about protested police corruption in a small town in Tunisia by burning himself. His cousin filmed it and posted the video on YouTube.

Millions of people saw the video and they started their own protests. As a result of this self-sacrifice, the 30-year reign of President Mubarak in neighboring Egypt ended. It was definitely an unpredicted result coming from Tarek’s protest.

In Taylor’s scientific management, an all-seeing manager could accurately predict the results of an action. But things are clearly different now.

Success is achieved through resilience and adaptability.

The threats that lurk in the business world are getting more and more aggressive and unpredictable. It can attack from wherever and whenever.

Taylor’s logic suggests that we should be prepared for every obstacle and clothe ourselves with the protection brought by robust mechanism. If a neighboring country does not see eye to eye with the other, a wall would be built for protection. Say, you reside in a region where storms are a constant part of life. The first impulse is to build a generator since the power goes out often. But before a protective mechanism can be designed, you must understand the nature of the threat. Relying on these mechanisms alone is not always a good idea, though.

Adaptability is the key.

In 2003, the author had a tenure as commander of the American Task Force in Afghanistan. And though this elite military unit had access to better resources than those of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the American forces could win battles, they were still losing the war. The problem was, they simply couldn’t adapt to a war against an enemy that did not have a clear hierarchical structure. Despite having more firepower, it still was not enough when the enemy could quickly regroup.

Teams are the perfect entities to produce solutions in a complex world.

You probably have experienced being in a group back in school when your teacher divided the class into groups. Teams have proven to be more efficient in solving problems than a single unit. And this philosophy can be observed in companies as well.

Team efforts can guarantee a better adaptability for the company when threats come marching in. This means, working in teams with equal access is much better than following a head honcho that everyone marches after. A single person cannot always point out the problem right away.

In 1978, a plane crash at the Portland International Airport that took ten lives. When faced with a minor malfunction, the captain prolonged safety preparations until they were left with no more fuel to use. He ignored the advice his crew members regarding the depleting fuel.

Obviously, there was a lack of teamwork.

Trust in one another within a team inspired everyone to respond as quickly as possible in critical situations. With common experiences and purpose, each member shares understanding and equal efforts to receive the outcome desired.

After the plane crash at Portland’s airport, United Airlines acknowledged the plane’s complicated technology. And that it was too complex for one person to handle. So, the Crew Resource Management program was introduced to build teams.

And it worked.

In 1978, another crashing incident occurred. Only this time, even though the crew was only provided with few minutes to do an emergency landing in the Hudson River, each team was able to successfully identify the specific actions necessary to ensure safe landing.

When there are too many people to put in a team, form a team of teams instead.

In an environment that requires specialized knowledge, teams are far better than single hand working on a task. And the secret to having successful teams is building a team of teams. A single team cannot include endless number of members and be expected to be effective. Therefore, the solution is to build team of teams. Teams have to be small to build a more personal relationship and trust. Teams with good working relationship will form a more stable team that will work closely in achieving the company goals. Their structure allows organizations to enjoy the benefits of a quick, adaptable workflow.

The author’s experiences in the American Task Force is a good example of the negative outcomes when teams do not have a shared understanding. The operatives on the field simply lacked the understanding of how the intelligence team operated. As a result, the time-sensitive intelligence wasn’t handled as such, and was thus delayed for several hours. When it was finally processed by an analyst, it was already too old.

It only goes to show that teams are indeed important to attain efficiency in organizations. Let us find out how to build teams in the most efficient way.

A team of teams needs to see the whole system in which it operates.

Knowledge is power.

When you have the right information, it could mean precious commodity. And this is advantageous. This is the reason behind companies trying to keep most of their information as secret unless it is without a doubt necessary to share them. These information include sensitive data from sales and marketing strategies to the simplest information about employee performance or salary calculations.

Per Taylor, sharing information is dangerous, which is why he suggests that only the manager should hold important information as he oversees operations. But today’s complexity requires a more open approach to sharing these types of information.

Nowadays, sharing information can be beneficial in making sure the employees understand the complete system in which the company runs. By doing so, each member of the team can contribute to the wise decision-making to properly operate the process that will do well not only for the team but for the whole company.

When the author took over for the command of the American Task Force in Iraq, he made a point regarding sharing information. He set up a Joint Operation Center in their base in Balad. In here, Task Force members have access to all the relevant information about their operations.

There were also weekly Operations and Intelligence briefs that were televised to guarantee everyone’s awareness of the development of operations, and electronic mails were sent to those who might be affected by certain operations.

By doing so, information did not go to waste.

A team of teams needs to support the relationships among teams as strongly as those within a single team.

There are a lot of reasons why teams do work and one of them is the bond that was formed between smaller teams. Closeness and trust were cultivated in such a way that would make their performance more efficient instead of throwing a bunch of people into a room to work together.

And for a team to form a strong bond, they ought to share their personal experiences. Back in the American Task Force, the challenge the author faced when he decided to develop relationships between the different parts of the American Task Force and between the American Task Force and its partner agencies, such as the Navy SEAL and FBI.

A team of teams needs to have the power to make decisions.

Imagine yourself being a part of a team of teams. When a problem arise, the teams would want to tackle as a unit. And while in the middle of brainstorming for a solution, your boss loudly declares that he will make the decision alone. Could this be the right approach?

Things change as constantly as possible. But when a team does not enjoy a healthy amount of autonomy. In fact, when the author introduce the shared consciousness program, he realized that his approval was of importance in the matter of protocol. His signature mattered. But when immediate situations arise, his signature slows things down.

Therefore, the author came up with a solution to empower execution. This allowed the teams to handle immediate important situations. And this move empowered execution as the most logical consequence of shared consciousness. Sharing control and power to a team that is clueless and unequipped with the right information could be very dangerous.

The leader of a team of teams has to concentrate on the culture instead of the day-to-day operations.

Now, if the team is properly briefed and well-advised, why would they need a leader?

Leaders are often perceived as the commanders of an army. And this is true, traditionally. You see these mainstream leaders sitting in the background and holding on to their megaphones to shout orders at their pawns. But the radical leader is the one that goes against this type of flow.

True leaders determine the path and actions of the team, because even though the dream team already has highly-functional teams that possess the right information and can brave the ever-scary huge decision-makings, they still need someone to keep things together. Like, a glue.

A team of teams must have a leader who sparks the conversations and keeps the culture alive within the group. It is his responsibility to make sure that the teams are empowered with confidence, knowledge, and ability to make their own decisions no matter what rank they hold or badge they wear.

To keep it short, a true leader would care for the team’s culture as a gardener would tend to his garden. While the bees are like the teams that tend to the flowers on a daily execution of tasks.

Final Summary

Organizing teams of teams is cultivating the workforce into a single but highly-adaptable working organism that has a single vision.

Actionable advice:

Grab whiteboards.

Go low-tech and utilize whiteboards. Make sure your teams of teams can view the displayed information right away. By doing so, your teams can brainstorm ideas progressively without compromising the knowledge they need to withstand the complexity of the problems presented.