President Obama and General McChrystal

What an interesting couple of days for those of us who study teamwork and help organizations create cultures of dynamic teamwork designed to deliver expected results.  Rarely are we presented with such a highly publicized case study that illustrates so many of the critical success factors of dynamic teamwork.

The story began to break into the public eye when an article out this week was leaked ahead of publication by the Rolling Stone magazine.  Their freelance reporter had been embedded with unprecedented access to the military’s Afghanistan command staff led by General Stan McChrystal.  The article is full of quotes, comments and opinions about the President and his civilian leadership team that would normally have been considered “off the record” by most leaders in any setting.  In the military, such public criticism of  the civilian leadership by the military is simply not appropriate.

Teams in organizations are kept focused on the goals of the organization through a network of team sponsors and team leaders.  This same network provides a hierarchy of responsibilities and accountabilities that drive the actions each team needs to carry out to achieve the organization’s goals.

In the military this hierarchy, known as the ‘chain of command’, makes it easy to understand who gives the orders and holds others accountable.  Those who chose to operate as freelancers outside the chain of command or criticize those higher up the ladder do so at their own peril . . . . . a basic ground rule driven home to all those who have served in the armed forces and embraced by most successful organizations.

General McChrystal has an outstanding record as a military leader.  He knows how to put together a team and get results in the complex worlds our modern military must operate.  His total commitment to the Army’s “Be, Know, Do” model of leadership makes him a role model of team and organizational leadership.  Those he surrounded himself with reflect this commitment and are most competent in their roles.

The challenge came when a highly professional military organization had to deal with and work for a team of civilians who lack the dynamic teamwork culture characterized by todays military.  Far too many of the civilians in senior roles lack the professionalism the military expects of all its people.  Frustration with the performance of the civilians, I believe, lead to the comments captured by the Rolling Stones reporter.

It is clear to me that General McChrystal failed to remember that by allowing his staff members to vent their frustrations with the civilian leaders in the presence of the media he was skirting the chain of command.  If there were issues, he should have taken them up with his boss, General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command . . . who should have taken the issues up with his boss, the Secretary of Defense, who in turn should have taken up the issues with the President.

Accepting General McChrystal’s resignation and assigning his responsibilities to General David Petraeus is traditionally an appropriate response to the crisis caused by the Rolling Stone article.  However, a posting on the Harvard Review blogs gives another view.  Click <here> to read the posting.  It appears much still needs to be done by the President to hone his civilian teams and their leaders to the level of professionalism exhibited by the vast majority of the United States Military.

Leadership and dynamic teamwork require skills that must be developed over a career under the guidance of effective leaders.  Developing those skills after one has accepted a leadership role for (or membership in) a key team is indeed a risky proposition for all who have a stake in the team’s results.


About Tom Samson
This entry was posted in 0. Critical Success Factors, 1. Team Purpose/Focus, 2. Team Sponsor, 3. Team Leader, 4. Mutual Trust. Bookmark the permalink.

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