- General Stanley McChrystal (with David Silverman, Chris Fussell, and Tantum Collins)
One of the curiosities about General Stanley McChrystal - former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Iraq; 4-star Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan; and co-author of the new book Team of Teams - is not what he has done, but what he has not done. Despite spending five years as the functional US equivalent of the UK Director Special Forces, he was never a Tier 1 operator. Pre-JSOC, he spent some time as a Green Beret, and commanded Airborne and Ranger Bns before his JSOC post. Such a career profile is nearly unheard of. He took command of JSOC having never seen combat. His first contact was as a Major General, accompanying one of his teams as an observer. He earned a “warrior monk“ reputation for eating one meal a day, never sleeping, and running six miles each morning without fail. Yet in person, McChrystal comes across as mostly unassuming, funny and disarmingly humble: one of the co-authors of this book is an undergraduate of his from Yale. He is not what SF mythologists like to believe. But he is one of the most respected and influential commanders in recent history.
This reality permeates a major theme of Team of Teams, which is that our very human tendency to seek out genius-level solutions, heroic leaders and the best-and-brightest to win the day is fundamentally flawed. Success in the modern world only comes with teamwork, and the best leaders are not the ones with great ideas or ebullient personalities, but those with the humility to question their own beliefs, work out what works, and then, most importantly, see through what needs to be done for as long as it takes to do it, riding out the inevitable failures, difficulties and opposition along the way.
Any management tome or doctrine note might tell you the same. Where Team of Teams differs is that McChrystal has form. As commander of JSOC, he made it work in practice.
Team of Teams makes three basic points. One, in the twenty-first century, connectivity and rapidly changing culture(s) have irrevocably changed the challenges faced by modern institutions: whether military, government, or businesses. Two, those institutions, while suited to the twentieth century, are now completely misconfigured for the twenty-first, and as a result are floundering. Three, the solutions lie not in simply “doing better“, “working harder“, or “efficiency“, but in the structure and culture of those institutions. Those structures which improved “efficiency“ last century now work against it in this century. Using examples ranging from NASA, General Motors, Navy SEAL training, or Nelson at Trafalgar, the book explains each point in a clear, brief and readable format.
The theoretical solutions presented here may be familiar to some, as none claim to be particularly original, but the real value of Team of Teams is in the practical lessons. The central example of JSOC draws a blueprint of how to change a hierarchical organisation, and the inevitable pitfalls discovered when putting theory into practice. For any soldier or officer in a Western military, this is invaluable. There are solutions to the problems we all face; they have been tested and proven to work; the results are written down; and they can be read by anyone.
Even if you think you know what is contained in Team of Teams, as I did, you must read it. This isn't ethereal doctrine or the platitudes of an overpaid consultant. It is a set of TTPs for how to adapt to the twenty-first century. If you think everything is fine in the Forces, this isn't for you. For everyone else, this is a blueprint for how to change the military.