One of the common questions we get from organisations, from businesses to sports teams, is how to be successful as a unit, to reach collective goals.
Understandably some people question whether lessons from military operations are applicable in the real world. This usually stems from the fact that in extreme environments mistakes made can lead to life-threatening consequences, and the same cannot be said of the boardroom or on the field of play.
But the reality is that the result is not what’s important, the process is.
The same tactics that keep teams alive on the ground during hostile operations can be used just as effectively to overcome adversity in other arenas. You just need to take the core principles and apply them to your own environment.
S.P.E.C.S is a 5-step checklist of tactics that can be used to increase the effectiveness of your team.
1. Simplicity – Avoid complicating the process
For some reason we love to over-complicate things in life, but complexity is the enemy of execution. And when it comes to working together as a team, the simpler a plan, an instruction or a strategy is to understand, the more likely it is to be successful.
During military operations when it is in everyone’s interest for each individual to understand properly what the intentions are and how they will be executed. The more complex and obscure something is the harder it is for the team, at every level, to effectively carry out their task.
There are two reasons why keeping it simple is effective:
- It makes you focus on being good at what you do.
- It allows better communication between your team and others in the ecosystem e.g. customers, suppliers etc.
Simplicity is not always easy to achieve. In fact, it can be very difficult: Distilling ideas into coherent strategies can take time and hard work. But being concise from the outset will help prevent problems further down the line.
2. Planning – Set priorities and anticipate problems
There are many things that go into planning but overall we should never forget what’s really important. Instead of focusing on urgent but irrelevant tasks, take the time to evaluate which activities return the highest reward. Set these priorities and act on them.
As missions, projects or games move forward it can be easy to feel submerged by demands, challenges and uncertainties. Which is why priorities should be constantly revisited and revised to ensure the team remains focused and on track.
The other reason this continual revision is important is due to the fact that things never work out as planned. As the old military adage goes, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
However, the more precautions taken to anticipate problems and mishaps, the higher the chance of success becomes. As a team you should always plan for the maximum number of scenarios so as to adapt to a situation that can change at any moment.
In the military we call these ‘actions on’. If X happens then we will do Y. In this sense you have one master plan and use ‘actions on’ to identify and plan for potential (but inevitable) curve balls.
If every member has a clear set of actions to take when a problem occurs it makes it much easier to limit the possible damage as you move forward.
3. Execution – Keep momentum at all costs
And moving forward is crucial if you want to make progress. There will be ups and downs but if your moving average is positive then you’ll get positive results.
The worst possible decision on the battlefield is no decision, because when momentum grinds to a halt it has a negative knock on effect at every level. By not acting more often than not a situation will degenerate and the whole team will suffer as a result.
Good leadership is crucial to stop this from happening. When things are going wrong and stress and pressure is increasing it is the job of those in charge to take that tactical pause and look at the wider picture. From this vantage point they can redirect the energy of the team.
It is sometimes possible in everyday life to tell oneself that faced with a lack of information, concrete facts or simply uncertainty, we will wait to see how things pan out. When the decision itself is hard it can also induce paralysis.
The problem is that indecisiveness also saps confidence. And once this starts eating away at an organisation it can be an uphill battle to regain the trust of those around you.
A leader who can make decisions is not necessarily somebody who knows more than the others. Often they just know that if the decision they have made isn’t the right one it can always be evaluated and corrected in due course.
Take the best information you have at that moment and act on it.
4. Command – Combine top down with bottom up
“Even if many organisations are able to set up a structure with leaders who send their instructions downwards, it is rarer to find examples of businesses that are able to let their employees on the field make important decisions for the execution of the global mission. Yet it is often the most efficient way to get concrete results and especially a genuine commitment from collaborators. Indeed, how can one expect an employee on the field to feel motivated and committed if he has no leeway and only gets orders from above.” – Frédéric Laloux, ‘Reinventing Organizations’.
Micromanagement is arguably one of the worst, most damaging and morale-sapping ways of managing people; it can seriously affect a team’s overall performance.
One of the greatest aspects of working within Special Forces is the trust within the organisation that allows for a high degree of autonomy. The mission and its limits will have been formally defined by senior officers who have the best overview, but tactical decisions are left to the people on the field who are in contact with its reality.
Understandably this is easier for some organisations to achieve than others, but it can be made possible if:
- Members are aware of their responsibilities and have a clear idea of what is expected of them.
- Mistakes are used as a practical source of essential feedback not as a reason for immediate disciplinary action.
Essential to this process is good communication and mutual understanding: Leaders must ensure that the aims of the mission and its objectives are understood, and individuals must ensure those at the top are aware of the true reality at ground level.
5. Support – Always cover your team
In the military, when a mission begins and you are on the ground you employ a strategy called ‘cover and move’. This means that at all times you have the protection of those around you. During a firefight, for example, you will never move unless you have the covering fire of your teammate. In a wider sense this means the team is united in one perspective, accomplishing the mission, while also ensuring that every member is supported.
This sits at the core of what makes a team either effective or ineffective. Each person, no matter what level they sit at must trust in those they are working with. Teams are at their best when they act as one, but this will not happen if members do not feel supported.
And the best way to achieve this is by cultivating good relationships because they are stronger than any chain of command. This means removing ego, being professional and instead of demanding support, showing how you can support others.
Strong relationships don’t develop quickly but over time, these efforts will succeed and enable you to effectively ‘cover and move’ for each other so that everyone can accomplish the mission.
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