Saturday, December 17, 2016

Unity of effort

In the Harvard Business Review, there is an interview with Admiral Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard commandant and the "National Incident Commander" for the Gulf oil spill some years ago.

Entitled "You have to lead from everywhere", it's a good read for those interested in how an experienced manager with a proven track record approaches different situations under different degrees of urgency and stress.

Interviewer Scott Berinato took the title from a reply Allen made to the question: "In a major you think it's more important to lead from the front or from the back?", to which Allen replied: "You have to lead from everywhere".

Mental models
Here's the point that struck me: Allen says he approaches every assignment with a number of different mental models of how command might be exercised....Allen is an admirer of Peter Senge, noted MIT advocate of mental models....and may change models as events unfold.  In many situations he has faced, he states that the chain of command model simply doesn't exist!

OMG! No chain of command?!

What he's saying is that in some situations there is no single manager is in charge.

OMG! No one in charge?!

But, Allen can work this way and make it effective. He calls for "unity of effort" rather than "unity of command"

Unity of Effort vs Unity of Command
Allen makes a very interesting distinction in those cases where the organizational model simply does not converge....parallel lines rather than a pyramid, or multiple pyramids with a loosely layered level of federation and coordination:

In what I would call a “whole of government response”—to a hurricane, an oil spill, no matter what it is—that chain of command doesn’t exist. You have to aggregate everybody’s capabilities to achieve a single purpose, taking into account the fact that they have distinct authorities and responsibilities. That’s creating unity of effort rather than unity of command, and it’s a much more complex management challenge.
Admiral Thad Allen, USCG [Retired]

Program management lesson
So, what's the program management lesson here? Well, of course, the lesson is right in the word 'program' that implies multiple projects ostensibly working toward a common objective.

And, of course, the objective may change, forced by unforeseen events.

And if some of the effort is in the government, and some is in contractors and NGO's, and even within the government there are state and federal, or USA and ROW, there's a lot to be learned by studying the methods Allen has championed.

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