Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World - Book Review

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By Guy Levine
on 8/1/16

team-of-teamsWhy I read this book

When I started Return in 2008 I had many jobs from hands on delivery, winning new customers and achieving our growth targets. While in some form or other this is still true today, Vision and Leadership is where I try to focus most of my effort. I am always looking for ways to enable our team to make ‘better and quicker’ decisions in a digital world which is becoming more and more complex.

The Best Insight

Give your teams as much information as possible so they understand the wider context and can improvise, foster collaboration and communication, reduce the amount of time it takes clever people to ask for authority on taking action and then watch the magic happen!

The Review

This was a really interesting book to read. The author was a General in the US Army so there were a few behind the curtain glimpses. While we are a relatively small company, it is always fascinating in seeing leadership and culture at scale.

I did find that there was quite a lot of processing to do after reading the book to find action points I could work on but it was a quite an easy book to read with lots of real world examples. Some of the insights I picked up were:

  • There is no point in searching for the perfect solution, we have to learn to evolve through rapid iterations. Change, assess then change again.
  • “We are not lazier or less intelligent than our parents or grandparents, but what worked for them simply won’t do the trick for us now.” This is also so true for Gen Y – so many people complain about them (I’m a x’er) but with how the world is now, they wouldn’t survive if they acted like previous generations!
  • The era of planning and discipline is being overtaken by agility and innovation. When things move so fast our plans can be out of date before the ink dries.
  • Sometimes we have to think, explore and develop the connections between things and not the things themselves
  • “They were doing things right, just not doing the right thing!” We must make sure we don’t get so bogged down in following procedure that we lose track of what matters.
  • In order for trust and culture to scale, especially across team based organisations, every team needs to have common sense of purpose. In the books military example, this was a case of ‘winning the war, rather than outperforming the other unit.’
  • Leaders should be constantly looking for the bottle necks they create and looking for ways to remove them
  • There is a massive need to combine ‘generalised awareness with specialised expertise.’ The example in the book was using an embedding programme to place individuals from one team to another for 6 months so they would learn how each other worked and foster better team relationships.
  • The author used gardening as a metaphor for leadership. A gardener can’t grow vegetables, they can only create an environment where vegetables can grow. It is the leader’s job to create the environment for their team to succeed. We should be enabling not directing, acting in an Eyes-On, Hands-Off manner.
  • In a direct quote from the book and in my opinion one of the most powerful “In the old model, subordinates provided information and leaders disseminated commands. We reversed it: we had our leaders provide information so that subordinates, armed with context, understanding, and connectivity, could take the initiative and make decisions.”