It’s all about the rhythm

General Stanley McChrystal’s book ‘Team of Teams – New rules of engagement for a complex world’ is a great read, not only in the learning to be had but, as business books go, a cracking and entertaining read.

Published June 1, 2019

Team of Teams – New rules of engagement for a complex world

By General Stanley McChrystal

I have just read General Stanley McChrystal’s book “Team of Teams – New rules of engagement for a complex world”. It is a great read not only in the learning to be had but, as business books go, a cracking and entertaining read.

The training people are prepared to endure to make it into the elite forces is simply mind-boggling. Trust me, you do not want to try BUD/S. Curious? Now you are just going to have to read the book. Oh OK, or Google it.

Team of Teams – New rules of engagement for a complex world

Team of Teams – New rules of engagement for a complex world

The challenges McChrystal faced in Iraq can be relevant to any leader

Team of Teams shares how when General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq in 2003, he quickly realised that conventional military tactics were failing. McChrystal and his colleagues* show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be relevant to any leader.

A big challenge faced was breaking down the silo’s between military Units, between them and the CIA, FBI, et al. Changing the culture from a ‘need to know, and you don’t need to know’ to one of sharing even if we are not sure of the value right now of sharing.

The most critical element of our transformation … was our Operations and Intelligence brief

General Stanley McChrystal

It was fascinated to read well into the book that the most critical element of their transformation was their Operations and Intelligence brief.

Why, you might ask, did this particularly resonate? Simple. One of the key elements we talk about with our clients Scaling Up and implementing Rockefeller Habits is their communication rhythm.

“The meeting rhythm”

“The meeting rhythm”

The recommended communication rhythm
  • The Daily Huddle. A 5 to 15 minute meeting to discuss tactical issues and provide updates to each other. The daily huddle is cascaded throughout the whole organisation.
  • The Weekly Meeting. Teams to meet for 60 to 90 minutes to check-in on progress against their quarterly priorities, tap into the collective brainpower of the team to deal with one or two topics of the moment, share any internal/external ‘intelligence’ gathered from conversations during the week.
  • The Monthly Management Meeting. Half to Full-Day meeting for the senior leadership and management team to learn and collaborate on big issues requiring several hours of effort.
  • The Quarterly and Annual Planning Meetings. One or two day strategy sessions to embed the long-term direction into the 90 day cycle of execution for everyone. Senior Leadership Team to meet and then share at an all-hands meeting. Making sure the whole team understand the part they play or as the late great Stephen Covey said “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”

Here’s the thing, as a Scaling Up Coach working with new clients one generally gets push back to this concept, particularly the Daily Huddle. Normally along the lines of:

  • ‘we don’t have time’
  • ‘we already have too many meetings’
  • ‘we see each other all day anyway’

Ironically, done right, the rhythm actually saves you time, cuts down the number of meetings required, and avoids the confusion and lack of ‘peer pressure’ of ‘in corridor’ meetings. Your rhythm of regular meetings shouldn’t require more than 10% of a standard 40-60 hour workweek for the senior leadership team, 5-7% for middle managers and 3% for frontline staff.

General McChrystal’s Operations and Intelligence briefing used 84,000 man-hours per week
That was how important their Communication Rhythm was to them

General McChrystal’s Operations and Intelligence briefing ended up having 7,000 people attending daily, six days per week, for two hours! To some management theorists, that sounds like a nightmare of inefficiency, but the information that was shared in the O&I was so rich, so timely, and so pertinent to the fight, no one wanted to miss it.

And they wouldn’t miss it! That was how important their Communication Rhythm was to them.

Sure, we are not comparing apples to apples in terms of the complexity and demands of their situation but maybe a daily 5 to 15 minute huddle isn’t so hard to achieve after all.

So, what might you need to tweak? What might you need to tweak and adjust with your current Communication Rhythm?