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Has Anyone Seen The Enemy?

It appears true in daily life and in the military that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’. For the purpose of this article, please read enemy as the physical enemy in war, the hidden enemy of a pandemic, the failed attempts in life and business along with our corporate competition. The question is, how do we deal with ‘the enemy’ and how do we prepare.

My time as a reserves officer, leading people and projects in the Army Cadet Force over many years along with my real jobs in retail and training have shown that there are very few differences as to how we should prepare and react to our enemy.

Here’s a 5-point summary to consider in line with my mantra of ‘simplify’, when leading teams and winning whatever your fire fight might be.

1. Commanders Intent

No, not the organisation’s mission statement (unless you’re the CEO). Your team or department should take the organisations top line aspiration or vision and create a compelling and meaningful intent for you. This should be something that helps you to make decisions without having to get permission for each and every action.

It should have guiding principles to do things in the way which you feel is right. For example, if your organisation’s purpose is ‘to delight customers with innovative and fun solutions for connecting home entertainment’ and you are part of the marketing team, your team’s intent could be ‘to share with the world and make them hungry for our innovative and fun home entertainment solutions and your guiding principles might be to exploit technology, collaborate and use fun language.

This way you can ensure you understand the products being created and find many fun ways to promote them. By being clear of your purpose and intent you will narrow down the possibility of your team making efforts that add no value. You can lead with powerful questions like ‘how will that make them hungry for…?’ and tell me how this is using the latest technology?’

All teams should have a clear intent which is reviewed regularly and part of everyday thinking and doing.

2. Training and Rehearsals

There are variables in every situation. This could be equipment breaking, supply chain blockages, people leaving, bullets flying or emerging technologies. By spending time together learning about yourselves and ‘wargaming’ possibilities, teams will stand out from the crowd. The military use TEWTs (Tactical Exercise Without Troops) or tabletop exercises, they create models of the ground that they will be operating in and walk through scenarios, mission phases and they question each other on their roles.

A few years ago, I trained in the LEGO Serious Play (LSP) which does the same ‘wargaming’ for corporate organisations and businesses. It allows you to get hands on with your business and play out emerging scenarios.

A detailed plan of your objectives, goals, strategies and measures is necessary, but there will always be curve balls and you should at least know what steps to take to deal with them even if you don’t know the solution. It’s also important that you learn about each other (of course I am going to say that, I’m a team development consultant and trainer), but you should take every step you can to get the best of the people in the room and the only way I know to do that is to forget what you were told as a kid – ‘to always treat people the way YOU want to be treated’ and to embrace the amended version of ‘always treat people the way THEY want to be treated’.

But how can you do that if you don’t know?

There are some really simple ways of doing this using tools such as Mad, Sad & Glad, or you can invest in (often frighteningly) accurate diagnostic tools like MBTi, Insights or my latest favourite and extremely versatile Facet5. In short, know the people around you and spend time having fun with a serious intent.


3. Watch and Shoot – Watch and Shoot

With point 1 and 2 above in place, during busy periods and times of chaos and complexity, a good leader can use the insights gathered from their team, refocus their efforts to a particular area and give them control. In effect the team are being told to ‘watch and shoot’, whilst the leader plans next steps, or reports in.

A simple example of this might be an IT system error, where a system has been down for a period of time and caused a back log of work for a particular area impacting on customer orders. Those with a working system can be re-focussed on the backlog, whilst the leader manages stakeholders and checks on the impact to his commanders intent, maybe doing some hearts and minds or damage limitation whilst giving the IT department clear focus to solve the issue.

But it can be more local and simpler than that too. Imagine electrical engineers using mobile work platforms to maintain street lighting, the workers in the air on the platform tend to be the youngest, fittest, and newest members of the team. They are also more likely to be the most recently trained.

This means that they would be both closest to the problem (the street light) and the most current and competent to fix the light. So why would they feel the need to shout down to the chargehand and ask if they can change or replace a part? I’ve heard this happening when the culture in place won’t allow for people to do anything without getting permission, the impact this has is twofold – it delays action therefore, inevitably, opportunities are missed and secondly it can stop employees thinking and limits their capabilities.

So, once the ‘enemy’ is in sight, give the team clear direction and allow them to choose whether their rate of fire is rapid or more deliberate.

4. After Action Review

The Deming cycle is quite possibly the most known process – Plan Do Check Act and can quite simply speak for itself. However, what often gets misunderstood or badly done is the how. Reviews of projects, programmes or periods of work must be rich enough to make a difference.

They should engage people, make them feel valued, stop risks emerging or mistakes repeating. People elements of the review should create candour and healthy conflict through intellectual knife fights as this is where things really happen. Work is very much like an iceberg, the things that you do, your output and outcomes are just the tip of the iceberg.

The methods, feeling and behaviour (MFB) are all the things that go on below the surface. Without the MFB the task is just an ice cube and will melt in warm water. Real teams have the courage and experience to review properly and regularly, getting below the surface and making a difference. Having said all that, the most important thing to remember about any After Action Review is what happens afterwards.


5. Prepare to be Jobless

All enemy create casualties, which means they create opportunities as a consequence. I recently read Legacy, by James Kerr, the story of the All Blacks Rugby team. Kerr often says ‘Leaders create Leaders’.

There are so many reasons for this and done well it could very much put you out of a job. You should prepare to be jobless because if you don’t you may very well find yourself blocked in by your own established barriers such as your team’s reliance on you for answers and solutions.

Be confident that the team around you can do the job they need to do without you and that someone can do your job when you’re not there. It will enable you to watch the horizon for the next opportunity (or high speed train) and even to look for your own next steps in your career path as goals and aspirations are something that we all need. Probably the most effective way to do this is through coaching.

Lead your team with questions as often as you can and always want the best for them.

Pulling It All Together

Remember, hierarchy works (in my opinion) when the pace allows for and demands the slow and perfect approach. Where accountability and traceability are a key part of success indicators in industries such as finance, food manufacturing and health care. But even there everyone needs to be able to feel confident enough to point out the enemy.

However, if my above 5 points are in place, a flattened organisation or team structure will reap greater results and huge satisfaction. In particular in construction, sales, retail and logistics, those ‘on the ground’ will have greater visibility and understanding of the enemy and the environment in which they’re operating and they should be able to go at it ‘quick and dirty’ without being slowed down by the hierarchy and bureaucracy.

Put my 5 points in place and regularly ask ‘has anyone seen the enemy?’

Want to know more about any of the content in this article, please get in touch at martin.peterson@thesuccessfactory.co.uk

About the author

Martin Peterson

Martin Peterson

I'm a passionate trainer who loves to explore new techniques and methodologies ensuring that everything I teach is up to date and relevant. I love helping teams and individuals to understand their strengths and exploring new ways for experienced teams and organisations to drive change and ensure sustainability.