[A] Rapid Reaction Forces (RRF) is a pool of highly capable units from all services that are maintained at high readiness for contingency operations…These units are trained to joint standards and are deployed in joint force packages, tailored to meet the operational requirement. (www.thinkdefence.co.uk)
Agile. Resilient. Flexible. Adaptive. These words are spoken in management meetings, leadership conferences and education events the world over. The problem? They are just words.
1. Your behaviours and the processes and structures you create must fit with the world around you or you will fail.
Organisations operate in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) operating conditions. As such, organisations need rapid learning, decision-making and problem-solving flows.
So why do so many leaders and managers (e.g. Knowledge Management, IT, Organisational Development and Human Resource Development teams) create static structures, processes and behaviours?
2. The tortoise will not beat the hare: a dynamic environment will bring a static system to fail.
“The larger the variety of actions available to a control system, the larger the variety of perturbations it is able to compensate.”
(Ashby – Law of Requisite Variety – e.g. see Principa Cybernetica)
Quite simply, in a VUCA world, you must develop rapid learning behaviours, processes and structures.
“The point is that we need ready, prepared forces and fast decision-making to be able to respond to threats, to challenges, with little warning time”
(NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg)
Imagine yourself as a soldier in a Rapid Reaction Force. You have been through years of training to prepare you for every eventuality. It is a normal day and you are at home. At 03:00 you are woken by a phone call that orders to deploy to a place you have never heard of with the task of evacuating civilian staff from a compound in the middle of a large built up area. Within 12 hours you are on the ground. The problem is that your opponent is a small unknown guerilla force. The operational environment is emergent and you are suddenly presented with a situation that you were not prepared for. What do you do? Do you request a timeout and ask for new directions or do you use your knowledge, skills and experience to act?
If you are static, you fail. If you have the requisite variety (knowledge, skills and experience), you can still succeed.
The problem in organisations is that too many teams do not have the requisite knowledge, skills and experience and, therefore, attempt to call the timeout. When this happens, the risk of failure increases.
Beyond knowledge, skills and experience, people need to know that they have permission to act. Much like the Rapid Reaction Force, the environment is emergent and there is no pause button in real life. Therefore, people need a decision-framework (mental model) that allows them to act, without waiting for permission.
For example, below is a rapid decision framework (the subject of our CMI Management Article of the Year) developed with then Major Peter Francis, now Head of Leadership and Management Development at Laing O’Rourke. The point of the framework is to allow a person/team to act within parameters that limit the risk of negative consequences.
3. You must understand how to influence the system or the system (you) will fail
To act like a Rapid Reaction Force, to move from being static to agile, you will need to prepare:
- Find common ground: who is feeling the pain – think Safety, Time, Innovation, Quality, Cost, Experience (STIQCE – sticky – problems)
- Integrate: embrace interdependence by taking a leading role in establishing working relationships with the best and brightest in your organisation
- Identify limitations: what are your weaknesses (knowledge, skills and experience) and how will you recruit or develop talent to overcome them?
- Act to avoid failure: stop waiting for someone to give you permission and start acting as a force for common good