I read this great article "the February Revolution" listing four things that tend to happen when great results are achieved. The thing that interested me the most was how similar at least three of the items were to how a successful military unit operates.

  • People know why they are doing their work. This makes me think of how a good order is communicated in the military. Everybody in the unit should know why they need to do what they do. I've seen both projects and military operations fall apart because the team did not understand why they were doing whatever they were doing.
  • Organizations focus on delivering outcomes and impacts rather than features. Again, successful military operations focus on the goal rather than the how. back to giving orders again, it is about telling everybody what the goal is rather than giving step by step instructions. I've seen my squad leaders completely misunderstand an order I give in the heat of a moment but given the initial goal I gave everybody the end result tends to turn out the way I wanted.
  • Teams decide what to do next based on immediate and direct feedback from the use of their work. So this one where I didn't immediately see a similarity with the military. The explanation in the article makes a lot of sense but it is not the first thing the one-liner makes me think. I think the spirit is to empower the team, something (deja vu anybody?) that successful military organizations do too.
  • Everyone cares. One of the most boring parts of being in the military is that after an exercise you need to do a lot of maintenance on guns, vehicles, tents etc. In some units I've been people just do as they are told and often several individuals take a looooong time to complete their first task so that they don't have to do anything else. This way it takes forever to get done. In other units everybody just picks up whatever needs to be done, ask if they can help etc. Probably no surprise but the latter unit typically finishes their work long before the former.

Though listed last, the everyone cares is the most important point of all these. If everyone cares that is probably enough to achieve great things. But it is also the most difficult one to achieve since it relies on each individual to actually care... In my experience I've seen that if the leaders (formal and informal) of a group cares and show that they care, the rest of the group typically start to care pretty quickly too. This takes the form of both taking action but also rewarding the team for caring.