by Ed Beakley
THE “TEAMS OF LEADERS” (ToL) CONCEPT
In our previous paper, we have described the concept of network-enabled capability (NEC) and network-centric operations (NCO), and analyzed the role of information and knowledge management (IM and KM) in the context of NCO/NEC (von Lubitz et al., 2008b). We also described a flexible approach to stable and reliable telecommunications platforms required in operations conducted in the chaotic environment of major disasters (Patricelli et. al., 2008).
Both IM and KM play an important role in homeland security operations (von Lubitz et al., 2008b). In a recent book, Bradford and Brown (2008) expanded this significance by introducing the concept of “Teams of Leaders” (ToL) as a highly practical approach to the consolidation of the concepts presented in our earlier papers. More importantly, ToL provides a powerful tool for the elimination of inter- and intra-agency frictions that continues to affect homeland security operations. ToL also provides the approach for “bottom-up” filling of gaps in NRF and its transformation from the “framework” into a solid yet flexible operational “structure.”
The origins of ToL can be traced to the entirely new demands faced by the US Army following the end of the Cold War. The expanded mission range and character enforced not only the introduction of a completely new readiness model emphasizing flexibility and deployment readiness (ARFORGEN, see Institute of Land Warfare 2006; USA, 2007), but also the realization that within the enlarged mission spectrum the performance of an individual soldier could lead to strategic consequences. For the first time in nearly two hundred years, decisions of the “man on the spot” had the chance of affecting the fate of national interests. To fulfill such unprecedented demands a new breed of soldier-leaders was needed: flexible, adaptable, versatile, and comfortable in operating within the complex setting of Joint Interagency, Inter-government, Multinational (JIIM) operations (Bradford and Brown, 2008).
In essence, the Army faced dilemmas similar to those of DHS: organizational complexity, wide mission spectrum, the need for mission-centered cooperation with other agencies (other services, armed forces and governments of other countries), and conducting the process of change and adaptation to new conditions while being engaged in active operations.
The details of the process involved in the development of ToL have been described by Bradford and Brown (2008). In essence, it is centered on the active fusion of three elements (“tripod”): advanced IM, KM and High Performing Leader Teams (HPLT). The essential prerequisite for the development of HPLT is the appropriate professional preparation of individual team members who must be trained to task, condition, and standard, the specifics of which are developed by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Although such training provides cross-service uniformity and shared confidence in the professionalism and ability of individuals, training alone is not sufficient: it must have roots in active learning. Moreover, the development of leader teams requires collaborative rather than individual learning. Several studies (Gokhale, 1995; Cavalier and Klein, 1998; Lou, 2001) support such approach and show that, compared to individual, team learning has a significantly greater effect on critical thinking and task performance.
To assure required task performance to a predetermined standard, the learning process is experiential rather than didactic, and must involve routine exposure to sudden changes (“confounders”) that assist in the development of the required flexibility and adaptability of the team (Brown 2002; Bradford and Brown, 2008; see also von Lubitz et al., 2008c). The culminative effect of the process is the mastery of essential skills, knowledge, and the related mental and physical attributes.
Performance assessment performed under rigorous and highly demanding conditions at Army’s Combat Training Centers constitutes the essential part of leader team development. Consequently, training turns into self-evaluation and evaluation promotes further training: the teams attain pitch efficiency, and, due to standardized approach used in their development, they can be inserted as “modular elements” whenever and wherever required. The “value added” presented by such approach is the resulting “quality assurance”: the receiving unit into which a team is inserted has full confidence and trust in its operational and tactical capabilities – an element of great significance in the development of unit efficiency and cohesion. As shown by Buck et al. (2006), the absence of such trust and acceptance was among the primary reasons for the failure to employ appropriately the inserted Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USAR) on the occasions when ICS failed to function as intended.
As employed by DoD, the network-centric doctrine promotes top-to-bottom distribution of knowledge (see von Lubitz et al., 2008b), with the reverse direction of information flow. While acceptable in a hierarchically organized system, the approach impedes development of new, actionable knowledge (von Lubitz et al., 2008a) and may, actually, lead to inadvertent “stove-piping.” The Army circumvents the problem by the wide-ranging employment of “horizontal spread” through peer-to-peer exchanges, social and professional networks, text- and visual blogs, avatars, etc. Rapid maturation of Web 2.0 offers a significant expansion of these capabilities (Anderson, 2007).
Combined with the enterprise-wide access to the primary information sources – Army Knowledge Online (AKO), Battle Command Knowledge System (BCKS – the repository of Army’s “best practices”), and professional fora (e.g., Command Net, Medical Knowledge Net, or Company Command), the resulting pervasive, Army-wide use of IT promotes generation of ad hoc collaborative entities (teams) that can address common problems, develop solutions, and foster creation of new knowledge and best practices in the environment free of constraints of time, space, organizational and inter-organizational cultures, and – most importantly – rank.
The approach selected by the Army in the process of developing Teams of Leaders, i.e., the extensive use of IT, IM, and KM as the means for sharing information and knowledge promotes rapid development of shared vision, competence, confidence, and trust (Bradford and Brown, 2008). Attainment of these attributes among all members of the collaborating leader teams transforms the latter into High Performing Leader Teams whose concerted activity modifies the previously top-down structure into a bottom-up/side-to-side knowledge and “best practices” generator. In the process of that conversion, the pervasive nature of the generated exchanges demolishes organizational barriers, promotes socialization, and fosters mutual confidence and trust among members of leader teams. As the cumulative result, Teams of Leaders emerge, and the previously physically or organizationally isolated individuals and groups convert into “swarms” converging and dispersing accordingly to the requirements of task and mission at hand.
Throughout the course of transition from HPLT to ToL a less tangible but critical advantage emerges: people who previously had no knowledge of each other, who have been separated by institutional or specialty barriers begin to rapidly form a network of close social relationships. Consequently, the development of collaborative spirit that often characterizes interactions between the sheriff and the fire chief from neighboring jurisdictions can now emerge between the sheriff and the fire chief residing in two different states or even two different countries. Actionable knowledge generated through NEC-based activities and that might have been shared between the two (von Lubitz et al., 2008a) transforms now due to ToL-type interaction into “actionable understanding” (Bradford and Brown, 2008). The latter constitutes the most essential prerogative for operational efficiency in environments of uncertainty and rapid, unpredictable change such as combat or response to major disasters (von Lubitz and Wickramasinghe, 2006). Although we have no evidence for this, we contend that the lack of such understanding that was among the chief sources of errors during the response and recovery following Hurricane Katrina.