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Team of Teams

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by Stanley McChrystal and Tantum Collins

General Stanley McChrystal is the former commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force and the former commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Along with his coauthors, McChrystal explains the reasoning behind his overhaul of the Task Force, in the midst of conflict, into something new: an organization with centralized information and decentralized decision making – in other words, a team of teams.

In fairness, this is not a book about how to be a great leader. It is a book about becoming the kind of leader that encourages an organization of great leaders. And if you only read one book this year about Organizational Management, Team of Teams would definitely make the short list.

I have to admit that I was expecting a bit of military history and perhaps some allegorical battlefield stories related to contemporary business practices. What I got instead was an easy to read history of generally accepted (and in some cases, dated and ineffective) beliefs on communication, momentum, management, and leadership. I’m a reasonably well-educated and experienced businessperson but the discourse on Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s Scientific Management is the best I’ve ever read. The discourse on United Flight 173, the dangers of prizing efficiency over adaptability, and the emergence of crew (cockpit) resource management are near and dear to me. And I’ve totally stolen illustrating the principle of diminishing marginal returns using sandwiches.

There is an interesting perspective to be gained about Al Qaeda in Iraq from this book as well (and more than once I found myself thankful for leaders like McChrystal). But perhaps the greatest take-away I received from this book is the number of times I found myself contemplating its principles while talking with others (and I’ve already purchased a few copies of this book to give as presents).

McChrystal and Collins explain that the world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving everyone to share what they learn across the entire organization. If you’re a fan of traditional corporate silos, command-and-control leadership hierarchy, efficiency above all, and management based on planning and predicting, then this book is definitely not for you. If however you are interested in exploring adaptable, agile, networked management then this book is a must-read.

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