Why The Military Is A Model For Agile Organizations

Brigadier General (Ret.) Bernard Banks, Ph.D.
Brigadier General (Ret.) Bernard Banks, Ph.D.

What can organizations learn from the military when it comes to developing talent in an agile organization? Plenty, says Brigadier General (Ret.) Bernard Banks, Ph.D.

Banks, who is the Associate Dean for Leadership Development at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Faculty at the Thayer Leader Development Group, shared some of his insights into agile organizations—especially the military—with Chief Executive. Banks will be speaking on the subject at the annual CEO Talent Summit, held this year on Sept. 24-25, 2019 in West Point N.Y. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

What are some of the trademarks of agile organizations? 

Agile organizations consists of networks of teams. The networks are leveraged to foster rapid learning and decision making. Agile organizations also create shared understanding and craft a common purpose. Finally, they gather new information and allow the teams closest to the data to make decisions on how to proceed. Quite simply, agile companies combine speed and adaptive capacity with stability and efficiency.

What lessons can CEOs take from the military when developing these organizations? 

First, leaders must clearly convey the intent behind all initiatives. Second, it is important to understand all organizational collectives do not function as true teams. Teams must be developed. They require a common purpose, shared understanding of the desirable outcomes and situational influences, and a cogent awareness of the steps that each member must take to achieve a performance outcome. If the aforementioned conditions are achieved, teams can respond rapidly in critical situations. Third, integrating teams is hard work. Companies must become a team of teams. Cross-communication, collaboration, trust, empowerment, and mutual accountability are critical to doing so.

What are the biggest issues organizations face in developing talent?

There are a variety of issue organizations face when developing their talent. Recent research by McKinsey highlighted four reasons why company leader development efforts fail to achieve their desired aims. First, they fail to take context into account. Second, many organizations decouple reflection from real work. Third, companies routinely underestimate entrenched mindsets. Finally, many organizations fail to measure results.

What are a couple of things you’re looking forward to discussing at the CEO Talent Summit?  

I am looking forward to engaging the participants in how enhancing their understanding of leader development science can make their efforts to grow the next cadre of leaders more effective. Additionally, I am excited about the opportunity to highlight the indispensable role leadership plays in organizations’ ability to navigate dynamic environments.

Join Banks and others at the annual CEO Talent Summit, held Sept. 24-25th, 2019 at West Point N.Y. Register here.