Business Warfighting Practices – Understand the Unit, Realize the Team

“Sometimes Life is War. Sometimes Business is War. Sometimes Organizational Development is War. And all-of-the-time you need to behave as GREAT teams do to Execute Strategically in War to win.”
– Damian D. “Skipper” Pitts, Published 2008 


As we begin to examine and unpack the twelve practices of Business Warfighting for GREAT Teams, it is important to realize that these practices are not for the weak at heart. These practices require a significant amount of work that must remain relentless in its pursuit for greatness. The first practice, “Understand the Unit, Realize the Team,” makes it very clear what allows great business teams to stand apart from all the rest. This business warfighting practice takes you inside the United States Marine Corps to discover how a powerful set of observations can change the way leaders lead, team members function, organizations meet upcoming challenges, and units make decisive decisions to achieve successful outcomes to affect the Future Picture.


Business warfighting practices reveals how and why the organizations who are willing to implement this innovative team structure can increase their level of proficiency, capable to perform with high waves of transforming behaviors during lean times and truly soar when opportunities arise. Great teams do more than improve an organization's performance; they continually raise the bar to redefine how “peak performance” is defined.


This first practice defines and decodes one of the Marine Corps ways of cracking the code to transform individuals into teams of highly skilled and motivated performers. Organizations that follow this practice posses the opportunity to develop their associates into people that are always ready, willing and able to respond to any business challenge in any business or non-business scenario without pause. These are the associates who deliver exceptional and consistent performance regularly without fail. They do not know any other way but to win! Unpacking the first practice in business warfighting comes down to defining the “what” of a team and the “how” of their actions; team building maneuvers: a concept developed to help teams become significantly more critical, as high-value assets, to the success of the organization.


Defining Team Building Maneuvers (TBM)


Any organization's concept for winning under a circumstance or condition requires a warfighting doctrine based on strategic, rapid and agile opportunistic maneuvering. To fully understand what we mean by team building maneuvers, one must first fully appreciate the means to clarify the term in subsets. The traditional understanding begins with the first subset and context of team: it is important to understand that not everyone who works together or in close proximity is a member of a team. This concept is a misnomer for most people. A clear explanation of a team is a group of individuals who are interdependent with respect to intelligence, information, transferable skill sets, resources, and tools, and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a shared-vision towards a common goal. If there is ever any doubt or if existing teams do not function as defined by this explanation, consistently, and without fail, it must be considered a “group of people” working together and nothing more. It is not a team. That being said, in some cases, there is nothing wrong with groups over teams if the structure fits a given scenario for the organization it is a part.  


The second subset offers a contextual view for building: the act, business or practice of developing a structure that may apply to either a finished or an unfinished product. When used in the perspective of people, the act generally suggests or implies the literal meaning of a useful purpose. This subset offers a commonly understood subjective cultural or emotional association to the initial subset.


The third and final subset, maneuvers, offers a philosophy that seeks to shatter an opposing forces' cohesion through a series of rapid, “violent” and unexpected actions or behaviors to create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which they cannot cope. The need for violence is not so much a source of physical attrition, but a single source for moral dislocation. Toward this end, concentrated force must be directed against critical vulnerabilities, striking quickly and boldly where, when, and how it will cause the greatest damage to an opposing force's ability to fight and win. Let it be clear, an opposing force is defined as anything that offers a barrier, gap or divide to individuals who are seeking to combine their efforts to achieve a shared-vision towards a common goal or mission – ANYTHING!


Maneuvers are relational; that is, people maneuver in space to gain a positional advantage. However, in order to maximize the usefulness of a maneuver, we must consider time – that is, time stipulates operational tempo to gain a temporal (sequential) advantage over an opposing force. It is through maneuvers that an inferior force can achieve decisive superiority at the necessary time and place of their choosing. 


From the definitions of each subset, we see that the aim in team building maneuvers is to place a group of individuals within a single cohesive unit pointing towards a common goal and purpose to render a competitive or opposing force incapable of resisting by shattering his moral and physical cohesion – his ability to be an effective, coordinated whole – eliminating his intent to win, while making him irrelevant due to a paralysis within his ability to use his efforts to achieve his desired effects successfully. WOW; a mouthful when you think about it, but regardless of the explanation's length, it offers a serious explanation when in the context of teams and their ability to win in any scenario.   


An essential aptitude for true team building and the maneuvers they require is how a leader is able to lead the team into building on a continuous basis. Team building maneuvers are used to lead a group into higher levels of team spirit, cooperation and interpersonal communication. Building teams is the process of developing on the team-dynamics and interpersonal relationship of the people that come together, to make-up the unit, and to eliminate a threat of any type to its sponsoring organizational structure and strategy-forward. With team building maneuvers, team spirit either grows or it dies based on the dynamics of the unit.


Inherent in team building maneuvers is the need for coordinated speed to seize the initiative, dictate the terms of any competitive nature and keep a competitive force off balance, thereby increasing his friction. Through the use of greater tempo and velocity, team building maneuvers seek to establish a level of effectiveness that an opposing force cannot maintain, so that with each action or behavior, his own reactions are increasingly non-effective until eventually he is overcome by events and despair.


Team building maneuvers mean that a team must be ruthlessly opportunistic, actively seeking out signs of weakness, against which it will direct all available competitive power. And, when the decisive opportunity becomes apparent, the team must exploit it fully and aggressively, committing every ounce of aggression it can muster even if to push its limits to exhaustion. This is how to appreciate the first practice of business warfighting for great teams – understand the unit, realize the team. It all begins in the recruiting process regardless of an individual's skill sets and talents.


If individual persona does not or will not fit into the structure and strategy-forward – regardless of skill and talent – the individual must receive a pass for the team. The team is the most important asset to any organization – people. When organizations place individuals, skills and talents above the purpose of the team's nature (reason for being), bad things will follow. This is a simple human resource rule that in some cases, organizations lower their standards. Standards are never compromised for the sake of the team.  


TBM Strategy: Successes and Failures – The Five Elements


Most practices carry with them a significant strategy to win. The first practice in business warfighting has its strategy laced throughout like blood running through the veins of a living breathing organism. As with any strategy, the need to develop and construct it must be robust under the fog of war or the uncertainty of business competition. Strategy is defined as “achieving a desired outcome through the deployment of resources in the presence of uncertainty and hostile intent.” An outstanding explanation, specifically from the position of the U.S. Marine Corps, is explored in The Marine Corps Way, a publication that studies the strategy of Marine Corps maneuver warfare.


Dr. Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management and of Management at The Wharton School, and co-author of The Marine Corps Way: Using Maneuver Warfare to Lead a Winning Organization, speaks of strategy to further define it as “the ‘fog of war' as in the ‘fog of business' (the heat of the moment) requiring a tactical movement stimulated by execution with fluidity in the presence of uncertainty and friction.  


Dr. Clemons goes on to include a very important aspect of the Marine Corps – one of the greatest operational teams on the planet – and speaks about how critical a team's effectiveness is built on leadership, trust, integrity, initiative and unselfishness. As stated earlier in the article, groups must transform into teams, teams must transition from great to extraordinary and the culture that they are a part must have shared values and understanding.

In agreement with Dr. Clemons, organizations can move with speed and maintain tempo with decentralized decision-making; it must be understood by all stakeholders that “in the environment, integrity is neither a luxury nor a cost of doing business, but a source of sustainable competitive advantage.” As with any case study, taking the lessons learned to instruct others with their initiatives means that the source is proven. There is no question, with regard to the U.S. Marine Corps, that their strategies are proven.


When considering success and failure in team building maneuvers, the same requirements are prevalent. The underlining strategy that lies within the first practice of business warfighting is explained by The Five Elements. Similar to the Marine Corps' maneuver warfare, the ‘elements' achieves a desired outcome through the deployment of resources in the presence of uncertainty and hostile intent. As with the business of the organization, “the heat of the moment,” requires a series of tactical movements stimulated by execution with fluidity in the presence of uncertainty and friction.


Overall, Team Building Maneuvers (TBM) is the collaboration platform at the core of Bison's application lifecycle management solution to effectively build, manage and sustain winning organizational and team behaviors. The platform is the next generation team building initiative that helps organizations and leaders manage their team development process. It inspires facilitative collaboration so that teams are freed up from mundane tasks to focus on successes and failures and with that, the inherent practices are critical. Team Building Maneuvers (TBM) is all about success and failure and The Five Elements offer the greatest strategy for realizing both.   


The Five Elements are taken from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. A document written by arguably the greatest military strategist, Sun Tzu's writings are known as the oldest military treatise in the world some 2500 years ago. A Chinese warrior and philosopher, Sun Tzu became a grand master of strategy and captured the essence of his philosophies The Art of War. A staple of military education, his stratagem offers significance to those seeking to understand strategy in business, law and in life for its inherent wisdom. At the heart of Sun Tzu's philosophies are useful strategies to all who wish to gain advantage over their opposition. The Five Elements offer themselves as the prevailing strategy in the first practice of business warfighting and Team Building Maneuvers (TBM).


The Five Elements, as explained by Sun Tzu from the perspective of success and failure, offer further team consideration and analysis. They are listed as:


§         “Dao” – Moral Unity.

§         “Tian” – Weather Condition.

§         “Di” – Geographical Condition.

§         “Jiang” – Leadership Quality.

§         “Fa” – Discipline and Organization Structure.


These five are a must know for all military commanders under his command. This philosophy offers a collective view of team building maneuvers; “victory to those who understand with no victory for those individuals who do not.” These Five Elements will determine success or failure when conducting war against an opposing force for teams. Here's an explanation of Sun Tzu's statement through comparison using an analytical lens. The Five Elements reveals the factors of success and failure of all team battles, namely: Moral Unity, Weather Condition, Geographical Condition, Leadership Quality, Discipline and Organization Structure.

Moral Unity determines the cohesiveness between the ruler and his subjects, the leader and his followers, the general and his soldiers. Ultimately, to achieve full support by fellowman, putting aside life and death matters and share the view of the rulers, is the goal of Moral Unity. Only when a view or decision is fully supported, can orders be carried out smoothly by the team.

Weather Condition such as summer/winter and drought/flood will have significant affects on how plans are executed. When weather is an element that no one has any control, the best strategy takes full advantage of the conditions when able. Going against the force of nature may prove rewarding when one overcomes, but it usually spells destruction. Weather offers a strategic element of consideration when making decisions to maneuver.   


Geographical Condition here refers to distance of near/far, terrain/mountainous/flat regarding the battle space, wide/narrow the battle field and whether the location chosen to engage the battle favors attack/defense. This will limit the size, type and performance of the troop. The same for business – this will also determine the team's reaction to the mission and the amount of resources – people, process and management of initiative that will be required to win.


Leadership Quality (my favorite) concerns the general/commander's leading capability. There are five qualities of a good leader: “wisdom, trustworthiness, benevolence and deportment, courage (both physical and emotional) and sternness (temperament).” These five qualities will affect the leading capability of a commander, his culture and climate for organizational behavior effectiveness within the environment and the efficacy and value of his command when carried out by the people (team) under his leadership.


Discipline and Organization Structure is the activity, exercise, or regimen that develops or improves skills within the organization. It is also the rigors of training within a set or system of rules and regulations. It offers the effect of experience, adversity, etc that brings a state of order, obedience and control. Discipline within an organization determines the level of effectiveness for regulating within a system of order. It is also the system of open communication and the vehicles used to do so – how each level within the organization manages and leads the people and process, including logistics. It requires a fair, consistent and clear communication to everyone. Communication is the greatest resource in all of life, not only in organizations, but in all we set out to accomplish. Effective communication is leadership's greatest tool to win its people, systems, processes and management of functions.


As The Five Elements are inter-related, no leader can either ignore or fail to understand the constructive/destructive nature of each element. Victory will overcome “failure” and “success” will fall upon those who analyze and clearly understand The Five Elements. These ‘elements' offer the foundational strategies in the first practice of Team Building Maneuvers (TBM). Much goes on between the lines in The Five Elements and that gives the practice of “Understand the Unit, Realize the Team,” its power.


Therefore, by asking who offers fairest reward and punishment, whose troop, team or organization is best trained and led, whose equipment and resources are more efficient and plentiful, who can deliver and communicate order/leadership smoothly, effectively and thoroughly, who has better geographical/weather advantages (culture and organizational climate), who has more resourceful leaders and followers – teams, whether the appointed leader/leadership is wiser, more strategic in their thinking, tactical in their approach to engage and has virtue… the winner is clear, defined and understood.




Capturing the subtlety of Business Warfighting for GREAT Teams and its philosophies in an understandable form is where unpacking the twelve practices comes in to add value. Business Warfighting for GREAT Teams uses thousands of years of practical experience with philosophies from the United States Marine Corps and Sun Tzu collectively to clarify the twelve practices. Sun Tzu said: “The Art of War is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road to safety or to ruin. Therefore, it is a subject that must be thoroughly studied.” As with the Art of War, teams will become great using business warfighting as one of its thoroughly studied faculties work.


To close the lessons in this practice, we'd like to share author Robert L. Cantrell's illustration from his book, “Understanding Sun Tzu's The Art of War:” Picture the rapids of a great river. See its waters rush over and around giant boulders. Close your eyes and listen to its roar. Then feel its relentless power when it crashes over a precipice. Now picture that you remove a cup of water anywhere along this river and sense how that water loses its power and starts to dry up in the sun. Then empty the cup back into the river, and know that as a part of the whole river, that water wears rocks into sand and does not dry up. So a soldier and philosopher observing a river from its banks in this fashion might hypothesize that a great army kept whole can conquer nations and still stay whole, but an army divided or too small will face peril and death. Any review he might make of successful military campaigns in the past and in his present would confirm his hypothesis. Like a river on its journey to the sea, he could therefore conclude that the way of fighting involves fighting as a unified whole, an entire army acting as one, with one objective in mind, and with its own preservation as an army also kept in mind.  


Business Warfighting suggest the same view from the river banks. For more information on this practice, email us for a copy of our white paper titled; Team Building Maneuvers and the Team's Leadership: Conquering the Challenge of ‘Change' through Team Building Maneuvers.” See you in the next practice.


Ductus Exemplo.
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