Academic journal article Military Review

Raising the Ante on Building Teams

Academic journal article Military Review

Raising the Ante on Building Teams

Article excerpt

WARFIGHTING READINESS demands a synergy of effectively organized and trained soldiers supported by well-maintained equipment. Command climate, the key influence affecting everything units can achieve, lies at the heart of readiness. The U.S. Army meticulously holds leaders accountable for effectively training, maintaining, and caring for soldiers and families, but it pays little attention to how organizations are developed. Units and soldiers are suffering from this neglect.

Ideally, every Army unit should be a steadily improving team characterized by open communication, mutual trust, innovation, and coaching. In such units, practices would match beliefs, and subordinates would contribute to making the team better. However, according to command climate trends spanning the past 3 decades and the Army Training and Leader Development Panel (ATLDP) study, many soldiers do not enjoy effective command climates. (1) The time has come to raise the ante and to hold leaders accountable for building teams.

In 2003, Lieutenant General Walter Ulmer, Jr., said that Army units "are not nearly as uniformly effective as they can and must be." (2) In spite of amazing advances in technology, the synergy of army teams remains an essentially human phenomenon. Without effective group performance, the Army can neither deter nor win America's wars. The 2002 white paper "Objective Force in 2015" emphasizes a vision, but not the means, for "leaders provid[ing] a command climate that supports initiative, innovation, and risk-taking" as a fundamental concept of the transformed Army. (3)

Enhancing unit effectiveness is a practical necessity. As the Army moves from an individual-replacement system to lengthened command tours and increased tour stability, it will place considerably more emphasis on building effective units that stay together longer. Optimizing organizational capabilities solely for an extended deployment or combat training center rotation only to virtually disband the unit thereafter will no longer suffice. Vacillating within a band of excellence will be increasingly counterproductive. To build and sustain trust, cohesion, and increased readiness, the Army needs units that grow continuously, not just during peak periods, and that incrementally improve over the long term.

Disturbing Trends

Climate critically binds individuals and the organization; ultimately shapes the effectiveness of organizational processes and accomplishments; and is the tacit foundation facilitating productive interactions among team members. (4) During the past 30 years, there have been countless studies of military professionalism, leader development, and the state of the Army culture. (5) The following statement reflects a disturbing trend in command climate: "The existing climate includes persistent overtones of selfish behavior that places personal success ahead of the good of the Service; looking upward to please superiors instead of looking downward to fulfill legitimate needs of subordinates; preoccupation with attainment of trivial short-term objectives; incomplete communication between junior and senior officers which leave the senior uninformed and the junior feeling unimportant." (6)

Results from the 2001 ATLDP study sprinkle salt on the wound:

* Army practices are out of balance with beliefs, which compromises unit readiness and leader growth.

* Junior officers are not receiving adequate leader development experience.

* There are insufficient opportunities to learn.

* Micromanagement is pervasive and a part of Army culture.

* The failure of baby boomers to effectively communicate with younger generations of soldiers is driving many captains out of the Army. (7)

One ATLDP study conclusion, in part, is that there is a lack of trust between junior and senior officers. Junior leaders have a strong perception their senior leaders do not want "criticism and therefore use micromanagement to block opportunities for subordinates to learn through leadership experiences. …

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