Retired four-star general Stanley A. McChrystal learned a lot about organizational structure during his time in the military, and he spoke about it at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored event in New York City today.He focused on the transformation of the Special Operations forces after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw in Tehran in 1980. They created the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) so that it would never happen again.
But in doing that, they ran into a plethora of unforeseen problems.
They tried to create an “organisation out of organisations,” he explained, and the process exposed the flaws in the military’s structure.
McChrystal presented four takeaways about what works and what doesn’t work in an organisation:
1) Strict hierarchical decision-making doesn’t work. McChrystal explained that when they tried to work with other organisations, things kept going wrong. They didn’t know how to correctly deal with people who they couldn’t command directly.
“The challenge was for everyone to share consciousness and operate with ‘smart autonomy,’ said McChrystal. “Traditional decision-making in the military — with the hierarchy where you go down — does not work.”
Shared consciousness is what works. Everyone — not just the top rungs of the organizational ladder — has to be empowered, but they must still look out for the needs of the whole organisation, not themselves.
2) Information ownership doesn’t work. That’s when people protect what they know without sharing it with others. It’s a hindrance to an organisation.
“It makes you more powerful,” said McChrystal. “It makes the organisation weaker.”
Inclusion and transparency is what works. Allowing information to flow between parts of an organisation, helps formulate ideas and foster trust.
3) Organizational equity doesn’t work. It’s the idea that everyone within the organisation is trying to make things “fair” for them in relation to their co-workers.
Having teams is what works, because it encourages collaboration and supports that “shared consciousness” idea.
“If everybody on a baseball team has a high batting average, but you lose, you lost,” said McChrystal.
4) Command and control doesn’t work. Micro-managing and imposing your will over much of an organisation stifles people.
Trust is what works. Without it, it’s impossible to have autonomous parts of an organisation.
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