Consider Using Military Methods to Lead, Such as Mission-Type Orders in Times of Uncertainty
Mission-Type Orders – Key to Decentralization
There are two prongs to Mission-type orders (Figure 1) [i]:
- The ‘commander’s intent’ which is a long-term contract between superior and subordinate and
- the ‘mission’ which is a short-term contract.
Figure 1: Mission-type orders
Team Supports the Mission in Return for Great Freedom of Action
As described in the Maneuver Handbook Manual, mission-type orders are key to decentralization.[ii] Mission-type orders are viewed as a contract between superior and subordinates. There are two contracts:
- The first contract is the commander’s intent, and it is the long-term view of what needs to be accomplished. The subordinate needs to understand two levels up, and the contract is to serve the superior’s intent on what needs to be accomplished. In turn, the superior allows the subordinate great freedom of action in terms of how her/his intent is accomplished.
- The second contract is the mission, and it is shorter-term. The mission is described as a ‘slice’ of the commander’s intent and the contract is basically the same. The subordinate agrees to support the mission in return for wide-ranging freedom in selecting the means on how to do it.
Team’s Ability to React in an Uncertain Environment
These military concepts are further explored in a more recent book called the Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal[iii]. As the book describes, when a subordinate seeks detailed instructions from a distant officer, the price for traditional order and discipline becomes too high in today’s battle fields. The chains of command that once guaranteed reliability now constrain the pace, and the ability to react to an agile enemy in an uncertain environment. The current practice includes reversing the communication flow to ensure that when the bottom speaks, the top listens.
Team Makes Adaptable and Fast Decisions
These military concepts can also work well for product teams since the team is closer to the solution/project. These practices lend themselves to an approach that is adaptable to external and internal forces. It is not the leader’s responsibility to tell the project team how and what to do with the project, but rather to provide the necessary guidelines, so the team can make easy, adaptable and fast decisions.
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[i] William S. Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook (Westview Special Studies in Military Affairs). 12
[ii] These decentralized practices refer to the Boyd Cycle that is based on maneuver warfare and the OODA (Observe, Orients, Decision and Action) Cycle. William Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook, page 5.
[iii] General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2015)