One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams

One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735211353
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/13/2017
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 109,400
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Chris Fussell is a former Navy SEAL, a managing partner at The McChrystal Group, and the leader of The McChrystal Group Leadership Institute. He has appeared in numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, and gives speeches around the country. Chris is an author of the 2015 New York Times bestseller Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

One Mission

I’d learned, over the years, that nighttime in the opendeserts of Iraq could be surprisingly beautiful and still.

Perched on the edge of an empty airfield, with one kneeon the ground and my weapon slanted at the half ready, I gazed through my limegreen night-vision goggles at the dark sky. It was the spring of 2008, and sucha respite from the speed and noise of our war was a rare pleasure. I took adeep breath, and appreciated the momentary calm.

My boss, U.S. Army general Stanley McChrystal, knelt inthe dirt beside me as we waited. For nearly five years, he had commanded aSpecial Operations Task Force dedicated to eliminating extremist insurgentcells in the country.

On this cool night, I was entering the final two weeks ofmy yearlong tour as McChrystal’s aide-de-camp. A traditionally unglamorousposition, this role had added a final lens to my appreciation of the TaskForce’s operation, and had been the most formative experience of my militarycareer.

Having begun, years earlier, as a tactical-level platoonleader before gradually working up our bureaucratic ranks, I’d watched asMcChrystal had transformed the organization from a coalition of tightly siloedunits into a united team of teams. Now with a year of access to our commander’sinner circle, I’d been able to observe our transformed organization in its fullscope, and had helped with the large-scale implementation of the practices thathad made it all possible.

That night McChrystal and I had gone on a foot patrol withan infantry unit out of their farmhouse headquarters and into a nearby villagethat had been decimated by insurgent groups over the past several years. Now wewere awaiting the arrival of our predawn flight back to the Task Force’sheadquarters in Balad—a small town located north of Baghdad. The logistics foran excursion like this were my responsibility as his aide, and tonight’sdictated that we fly aboard a compact MH-6 “Little Bird” helicopter, a spartanform of travel for a three-star general.

A Little Bird resembles a horizontal, jet-black dewdrop.Its cramped interior has room only for two pilots, while park bench–likeseating runs along its exterior sides. These force passengers to dangle theirlegs into empty air once in flight, making for a dramatic ride that forces eventhe proudest operators to instinctively tighten their grip. These machines arebuilt for agile attack rather than comfortable transport and are not a normalmode of transportation for VIPs.

The night remained still as we awaited their arrival.Then, exactly on schedule, we heard the distinct, angry whirrrrrrrr of twoLittle Birds’ high pitch rotors fill the air. The pair touched down lightlynose to tail, their rotors cutting green halos through my night vision. Mycommander and I split up to run to either side of the first aircraft, crouchingto avoid the buzzing blades overhead before sitting down on our respectivebenches.

From where I sat on the Little Bird’s exterior, I turnedto look toward the aircraft’s cockpit. Just eighteen inches in front of me, ourcopilot’s arm was stuck outside the aircraft, parallel to the ground, fistclenched and thumb pointing skyward. He was awaiting my grasp, a signal from methat his two passengers were secure and ready for takeoff. I watched thecopilot’s arm remain stark still, his camouflaged sleeve flapping under therotor wash.

Nothing, not an approaching enemy fighter, not a bullethitting the Little Bird’s globular windshield, would cause that pilot towithdraw his fist or pull the aircraft into flight—he wouldn’t move, not untilhe felt the anticipated signal from his passenger. My life was in his hands,and he in turn trusted me.

Once secure, I leaned forward, grabbed the copilot’soutstretched fist, and squeezed once. This seemingly small interpersonalgesture implied a deeper meaning—I’m ready when you are. McChrystal did thesame on the other side of the aircraft, with slightly larger significance—amultistar general was clasping the hand of a young pilot many organizationaltiers below him, but the faith demonstrated between these two people on thebattlefield defied conventional understandings of rank.

Our pilots reacted swiftly. The aircraft quickly liftedand began on a heading back to Balad, followed closely by the second LittleBird. The air whipped my face beneath my goggles, and my legs became pinnedback by the wind of the Iraqi night sky.

Small moments like this capture why soldiers cansometimes miss being in war. Just as the pressure of that moment locked thepilot and I into a mutually dependent relationship, so too had our leadershipfound a way to scale such intimate trust through our global enterprise. I wouldmiss more than just the passing moments of intensity like this one; I wouldmiss the intimacy of our organization once I was home.

Each of us, to our core, is drawn to being part ofsomething larger than ourselves, something with purpose, something we canbelieve in. The Task Force had become exactly that for its membership. Weshared one mission, and this culture shift had augmented the way we operated asan organization—to tangible results. The rate at which our teams would go outon raid-type Direct Action (DA) missions in the early days of the war wereroughly ten per month—but with minimal increases in personnel and funding, thatsame figure had reached three hundred per month by 2006.

The pilot’s clenched fist, awaiting my signal,represented a standard operating procedure that predated the Task Force’sreformation, but back in 2003 relationships within our organization as a wholedid not embody the trust and unity of that gesture.

Five years before the night of that Little Birdrendezvous, on March 20, 2003, I listened to a radio call echo through adarkened, crowded Joint Operations Center (JOC) close to the border of Iraq.Its tone was fuzzed with static, but the words were still intelligible to thoseassembled: “Shots fired.”

With that, all of us in the large hangar knew we might behearing the first combat of a new war, as our forces entered the western AnbarProvince of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Yet, as you likely know today, the enemies who were thesubject of that night’s radio call were not the ones the invading Coalitionwould be most troubled by in the years to come. Though beating Hussein’s militarywas no small challenge, the greatest long-term obstacles to peace in Iraq wouldbe the various Sunni and Shi’ite insurgencies that sprouted organically acrossthe long-mismanaged nation in the aftermath of the Ba’athist regime’s collapse.These networks’ amorphousness, opacity, and then-novel ability to exploitmodern technology made them especially dangerous and complex foes.

Prime among these weirdly webbed organizations was AlQaeda in Iraq (AQI), a regional franchise of the greater international Al Qaedaterror conglomerate. Known before the invasion as Tawhid w’al Jihad andinitially headed by a charismatic young Jordanian, AQI’s brutal actionscontributed significantly to spiraling levels of sectarian violence in Iraq,which peaked between 2007 and 2008. Sadly, the influence of this organizationin Iraq grew exponentially after the invasion, benefiting from the complexconditions that the Coalition’s presence unintentionally helped foster.

Entering the military in 1997 after my graduation fromcollege, I served as an officer in the Navy SEAL Teams until 2012. A year afterthe invasion of Iraq, I joined the Task Force, whose mission was to disassembleAl Qaeda’s expansive networks in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of theworld. The bread and butter of our work, historically, was deploying smallgroups of operators in DA counterterrorism operations against enemy leaders andinfluencers within these confusingly clustered networks.

However, in a way that sometimes mirrored theSunni/Shi’ite divide that helped define the civil chaos that engulfed Iraq, theTask Force’s constituent teams naturally clung strongly to their respectivetribal norms. In each of these factions there existed deeply enshrined unithistories, myths of legendary heroes who once walked among members, as well asjealously guarded traditions and rituals. Young members of these units wereadvised and influenced by close mentors to think of these tales and practicesas inspiration for how to conduct themselves over the course of their careers.

We even had mascots and totems of honor, handed out tomembers of our microcommunities as a reward for loyalty to their homeunits—hanging on the wall of my home office in D.C., to my wife’s dismay, is(among other memorabilia) a four-foot-long battle-ax from my time with one suchtribe, a subunit of one of the SEAL Teams I spent time with. Not unlike theprized ornaments some white-collar professionals receive for working ondifferent deals, experience within a certain military clan was often rewardedwith physical reminders of the bonds you shared with your teammates.

Much like Khan’s Mongols, Boudicca’s Iceni, and Shaka’sZulus, our Ranger units, CIA analyst teams, State Department liaisons, and SEALplatoons were distinct examples of proud clans that trusted only their own andlived within well-established norms of their group’s functions. In our complexbattlefield, though, these tactical distances would soon lead to broader andmore dangerous strategic divides.

Today the term “echo chamber” is commonly used inassociation with politics or social media or both, especially in the aftermathof the 2016 U.S. presidential election. An article in Wired magazine onNovember 25, 2016, accurately summarized the scale of this problem on thesefronts, noting that many Americans today “seem to feel trapped in a filterbubble created by the personalization algorithms owned by Facebook, Twitter andGoogle. Echo chambers are obviously problematic; social discourse suffers whenpeople have a narrow information base with little in common with one another.”More recent discussions regarding “fake news” seems to confirm that this trendwill continue to remain relevant in different forms in the foreseeable future.

In the Task Force, though, our insulated cultures on thesmall-team level unintentionally contributed to the formation of strategic echochambers, with the “filter bubbles” in our case being actively maintained byinfluential members of our teams and passively allowed to exist by ourorganization’s bureaucracy.

Our various isolated teams, not surprisingly, couldquickly become spaces where only one view of our organization’s complex problemsets and overall strategy was discussed and socially accepted among closepeers. These spaces then became stand-alone strategic echo chambers, furtherconstraining their relations with teams in the larger Task Force.

A common, generalized refrain you might hear across thesespaces would be Everybody else is at fault, and only we have the bestunderstanding of what’s going right and wrong in this war. If everyone listenedto and thought like us, then this war would be going smoothly. As withlike-minded political echo chambers, wherein those within bounce and magnifyprefiltered viewpoints off each other, strategic echo chambers can serve toreinforce and exaggerate divergent thoughts on what an organization’s strategyor culture should be like and exacerbate operational distance between teams.

These differences had led to the formation of multiplenarratives within our Task Force: distinct, unit-specific stories broadcast toand accepted by a critical population, in which listeners would inevitably castthemselves as actors playing a tribally accepted part. From army platoons toCIA human-intelligence analysts to NSA signals intelligence partners, eachinternal and partner unit associated with the Task Force held its own distincthistory and sense of culture. This informed each unit’s narrative, which inturn increased members’ sense of tribal identity, which contributed to an echochamber effect across different parts of our organization’s bureaucracy.

For my first few years of the post-9/11 wars, I’dsummarize my own narrative—the guiding story that motivated me and many of theSEALs I worked with, influenced my interactions with outside entities, anddefined my sense of culture—as follows: I am part of an elite tribe made up ofgreat individuals who are the best at what they do. Each of us needs to earntheir place in this tribe every day. Each of us needs to exceed theexpectations of our SEAL teammates, and we expect them to do the same for us.

This powerful, unit-based ethos had subconsciously beenburned into our psyches and was reinforced constantly—to the extent that eventhe physical “territory” of our units would drive our tribal independence hometo us. Above the front entrance of the first SEAL Team to which I was assignedin Little Creek, Virginia, there was an etched reminder on the doorframe thatasked a daily question of those who passed under it:

Did you earn your Trident today?

The trident, a gold-plated special warfare insignia wornon the chest of every Navy SEAL, has a long and proud history and is earnedonly after nearly two years of training, which has an attrition rate that canreach the 80 percent mark. The trident is earned, not granted. Constantly beingreminded to live up to the significance of this insignia, none of us ever feltthe chance to rest on our laurels or forget to do well by those who also woreit. Totems like this served to strengthen and inform the narrative of ourisolated community, as was the case for others we were expected to workseamlessly with.

But mine was an ill-informed narrative, though I did notrecognize it as such early in my career. I, and others like me, were living toa “best in class” standard without ever spending substantive time with otherspecial operations units or other teams whose work informed and enabled ourown. My narrative was inwardly focused, myopic, and selfish; while certainlymotivating, it did not align with building collaborative teams and offered noroom for, or even acknowledgment of, other important tribes in ourorganization. Similarly, their narratives had no room for me or my kind.

Yet the Task Force still functioned with our many narratives,with its teams working through the limited bureaucratic highways thatorganizationally connected us.

For generations our model worked. We could function withour many narratives in a twentieth-century world that was complicated but notcomplex.

But then we encountered a change in the pace andcomplexity of our environment and found in the midst of that change an enemywith a truly unified membership. In contrast to our own individual stories, thenarrative that aligned AQI’s dispersed, unprofessional, and poorly resourcednetwork was exponentially better than any one of ours. It may have been bestsummarized by Ayman Al-Zawahiri—the Egyptian physician-turned-terroristregarded at the time as Osama Bin Laden’s second-in-command of Al Qaeda’sinternational umbrella organization. Following the 2011 death of Bin Laden,Al-Zawahiri, long a leading strategic voice for the organization, has gone onto inherit the executive command of Al Qaeda.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "One Mission"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Chris Fussell.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword General Stanley McChrystal ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 One Mission 9

Chapter 2 The Hybrid Model 25

Chapter 3 An Aligning Narrative 47

Case Study: Intuit 62

Chapter 4 Interconnection 76

Case Study: Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (Omes) 109

Chapter 5 Operating Rhythm 126

Case Study: Under Armour 147

Chapter 6 Decision Space 162

Case Study: Medstar 186

Chapter 7 Liaisons 197

Case Study: Eastdil Secured 221

Conclusion 235

Appendix: Chief of Staff 251

Acknowledgments 261

Notes 263

Index 277

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One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book. I read the first book, Team of Teams, and have been working on ways to implement within my team and this book is the perfect guide. It has a ton of practical ideas, great stories, and useful examples. I just ordered a copy for everyone on my team so we can start implementing the ideas! If you are looking to take your leadership to the next level, I highly encourage you to get a copy for yourself and your team.