Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal • leadership • US army • agile

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal - US army

Team of Teams by Gen. Stanley McChrystal talks about organisational dynamics and leadership in the US army. Stanley McChrystal is a US General who lead Special Task Forces and had to modify his army’s organisation to better fight Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq. The book is a personal memoir of transforming Joint Special Operations Command. It describes how to adapt old hierarchical structures to fit the current complex world and create an agile organisation that can rapidly react to outside quick challenges. The book presents steps as well as strategies regarding resilience and adaptability with regards to confronting difficult situations. The aim of the book is to show that the strategy used in Iraq could effectively be applied to businesses as well as different institutions.

Anyway, McChrystal starts with Iraq where he found that the standard model of commanding the US army didn’t work. This was not a war of planning and discipline, but more agility and innovation situation. in the old model of business, planning was one of the most important keys to overall success but in the past, the world and industries weren’t changing as quickly as now. Of course, the planning process is still crucial, but now it’s about agility and innovation. The book says that today’s world is less about how to optimise for the known, the relatively stable set of variables. We should be rather looking for to innovate and change with the times. 

Next, the book talks a lot about empowerment, care and relentless nurturing of competence and ability of your team. What innovation requires is a great team of people underneath you, the team that can come up with ideas. The author compares this process to gardening which needs your time and patience. When it comes to caring, McChrystal writes a lot about competition and even antagonisms between different units in the US army. Military culture has a sense of tribalism where different components see themselves as being better than others. Then he presents his approach to consolidate his teams and develop a way to establish links between them as teams whose members know one another perform better. Such teams can self monitor each other which save a lot of time regarding day to day supervision, of course, if needed. This also implies continuous communication at all times. 

In addition to empowerment, McChrystal presents transparency as something extremely important in the lower military ranks. They watch the actions of their leaders and not only listen to what they have to say. Each member of the US army needs to feel they have a stake in the outcome, therefore, they need motivation and reward. As a manager, you have to remember that your team is made up of people who each have a certain role to achieve a specific goal. The funny thing here is that the author supports this thesis by saying that: “If you ask people what their vision is, it’s not: ‘Hey, I’m here cutting this stone.’ It’s: ‘I’m part of a team-building a cathedral.” I’ve used the same anecdote in my public speech 2 weeks ago when I was talking about giving purpose to your team.

The chapter I’ve enjoyed the most was about gathering data regarding complex situations. He warns not to confront complex situations with large amounts of data as that will ensure failure. He cites where, in the health industry, analytics are pushed, while, without applying a useful pattern, extra data only serves to confuse. An over-infusion of data within a system that is complex does not help make predictions. All the different data does not help you with regards to your foresight, it only causes you to ask more questions.

In conclusion, Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly explains how many of our current organisational beliefs, management techniques and organisational structures are out-dated and tailored to the current rapidly changing needs. He outlines how to adapt these old structures to fit the current complex world and create an agile organisation that can quickly react to outside influences

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
by Stanley McChrystal

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

Book details:

Size: 304 pages
Published: 2015


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
Stanley McChrystal on Wikipedia:
Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) on Wikipedia:
McChrystal’s website about the book:
Other great books about agile: The Age of Agile by Stephen DenningThe End of Power by Moisés Naím

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