Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.

Idea Pitch – Posting Teams NOT People

December 4th, 2016 by Johnny Ozols and Tom Day

Courtesy of Australian Defence Force

Introduction

Advances in the field of psychology are allowing experts to discern, more accurately than ever, the characteristics of an individual’s personality. In human resources, this is allowing people to be matched to vocations they enjoy, as they are more likely to be predisposed to doing well in fields that match their character. Such insights can also be applied at the ‘group’ level, used to match complimentary personalities together – thus maximising team harmony and performance. We believe that this type of social engineering presents an opportunity to realise the combined potential of Army’s people.

Like most Western militaries, our current career management methodology seeks to fill positions based primarily on qualification, experience, and potential – along predetermined paths. This is occurring in an organisation which rarely employs an individual as a standalone capability. Consideration is given (on occasion) to building more cohesive teams, but this is not the norm.

Our ability to look deeper into an individual’s personality should be explored as a method to maximise the performance of the Army’s teams – enhancing individual resiliency and providing greater job satisfaction.

Psychological Theory Regarding the Formation of Groups

In 1965 Bruce Tuckman published his influential work on group dynamics. The process of team growth known as ‘Tuckman’s stages of group development is taught to Army recruits and Staff Cadets in the initial phases of training because it allows them to understand how they are developing in their small teams. It also allows them to understand a ‘grouping’ process they will experience many times in their careers. The process consists of five phases: forming – storming – norming – performing – adjourning. Moving through the first three phases is a necessary evil that allows a group to begin ‘performing, the objective of Army’s collective and individual training continuums.

While it would be fair to say that the first four phases are widely understood, we believe insufficient attention is given to the final phase of ‘adjourning’.  Acknowledging the effects of separation is important, particularly when considering individual resiliency. According to Tuckman, when the team adjourns individuals often go through emotions akin to mourning the loss of a loved one. This sense of loss is a by-product of the emotional connections made when a team reaches completes ‘norming and enters the ‘performing phase. This effect is amplified in high performance teams, as team members are often even more deeply interdependent. Such interdependent relationships satisfy deeper desires for sensations of competence and relatedness (two things critical for everything from performance to retention).

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) explains why people respond positively to working in teams, and goes some way to helping us understand why separation from a team can be distressing. In the early to mid-1990’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan refined the theory of self-determination. SDT consists of three intrinsic motivators: autonomy – competence – relatedness. These motivators play a major role in generating a team’s desire to reach, and remain within, the ‘performing phase.

Deci and Ryan found that people require support and nurturing from those around them to realise their full potential. In the ‘performing phase, nurturing from the team provides a sense of ‘relatedness’ feeding the innate desire to be connected to each other. The three pillars are sometimes referred to as ‘safety, ‘belonging and ‘mattering which are grounded in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When activated these primal desires are powerful motivators.

It is reasonable to assume that someone who satisfies these desires has the best chance of realising their potential. It is also likely that feelings of professional competence and mattering will increase their desire to remain in an organisation. It is probable, therefore, that a desire to belong to an organisation will significantly enhance individual and collective resilience, as well as the performance of the team. It is perhaps an oversimplification but what we have just discussed is the process of building trust – a key ingredient for group cohesion.

Observation

We believe that, in a posting cycle, the process of forming, storming and norming consumes a large proportion of the available time, effort and resources required to build a team.  As a result, the majority of Army’s teams experience mostly forming and storming. The cycle is costly to the organisation and the individual, particularly in terms of feelings like belonging and mattering. This means the Army never may not be fully realising the full potential of collective training as teams rarely spend long enough together at the performing phase to realise the effects previously discussed. Time spent together in the performing phase is probably why most people find deployment on operations so rewarding. The annual disruption of this hard-won cohesion causes unnecessary (although predictable) fluctuations in Army’s fighting power, requiring reinvestment to again commence the journey toward performance.

These group dynamics stretch from our professional to our social lives as well; a fact that Army must not ignore. The proliferation of social media can be linked to our instinctive desire to be more deeply connected to each other than is offered by mainstream society. Despite this effect, social media offers non-simultaneous and at times impersonal communication. As platforms like Instagram become increasingly voyeuristic, or commercialised like Facebook, the use of social media will not satisfy our inherent desire to feel closely related to others. Instead, these phenomena may lead many young Australians to seek ‘belonging’ that is not offered online. The Army is uniquely positioned to offer deep, meaningful and rewarding human interaction to meet these needs. This must be exploited if we are to recruit the leaders of the future.

Courtesy of Australian Defence Force

Posting Teams, not People 

We need to post ‘teams’, and not just ‘people’.  Our DEF Idea Pitch can be summarised in the vignette below:

Imagine being part of a Team. This Team completed EX HAMEL six months ago as members of the Brigade Headquarters staff, and worked together as part of the ‘Ready Brigade’. The Team know each other well, having completed HAMEL together in a preceding year as members of a diverse, combined arms sub-unit command team.

Having spent nine months gaining operational experience in the ‘Ready’ phase, the Team is now posted to Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) as future members of the J35 branch . Each member of the team is excited and looks forward to the challenges of a new posting together, confident that advice they had received from the Army Psychologists after EX HAMEL would allow them to tweak their dynamic and again succeed. The centre of their relationship is trust, built around their complimentary personalities and styles which were matched by the DOCM-A psychology staff branch five years ago. Despite knowing that this may be their last posting together the team feels they can still improve as a group.

The Team has done well, and been lauded collectively for its efforts.  The work environment at the ‘Ready Brigade’ was stimulating, and each member intimately understood how to best leverage the strengths of the group – enhanced by deep experience of each member’s personal circumstances and when they required support from the team. This generated a sense of loyalty and a will to win. While the team had been allocated a new leader as theirs was now to assume a Unit Command position, the ‘core’ remained stable and personality-matched. Another member of the team would soon commence Staff College. The plan was that they would re-join the team on completion – ready to apply their newly developed ‘operational art’ within a high-performing group.  The Team, happy, healthy and motivated, was ready to go for another evolution.  Who knows what they might achieve.


About the authors:

Johnny Ozols and Tom Day are Royal Australian Armoured Corps Officers currently posted to Canberra. In 2017 Johnny will post to 3 Bde and Tom to Army Headquarters.


Disclaimer:

Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

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2 Comments on "Idea Pitch – Posting Teams NOT People"

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Sam Thackray

G’day lads, good read.
I think there are definitely circumstances where this concept would have huge utility.

However, how do you balance the career needs/location preferences of the individual under your proposed model? Would we need to completely restructure our current career pathways to facilitate it? What happens when an individual or several individuals want to leave the team or the team is underperforming and to follow on from Mitch’s question above, how then are those people managed?

Great insights into teamwork. I am wondering if trust building – forming-storming-norming, etc can b fast tracked at the start of postings by design. I.e. More time allocated at start of each year to form an strengthen the team, perhaps via adventure trg, plus targeted group activities. This may allow groups to reach ‘performing’ level much earlier, thus have more fulfilling postings etc as u describe.

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