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Teamwork in isolation.


During Operation Herrick (2008) I was the commander of A11D: a 6–8-man team embedded as the Operation, Mentor, and Liaison Team (OMLT) within a 120-man strong Afghan National Army (ANA) Company group. During this time, we conducted operations all over Helmand province, but it was only when we headed into the fighting season - landing firmly in Musa Qaleh and remaining there for about 4 months in constant engagement with the enemy - that we felt the full effects of working in isolation. 13 years later, as a Regimental Sergeant Major, I prepared for and deployed to Kabul (OP TORAL) as part of a large team. It was here that I experienced the other side of the spectrum: operating in a well-established headquarters, full of operational experience and energy, we soon learnt that having company groups and individuals spread all over the capital city of Afghanistan, in isolation, on occasions in lockdown, held dangers to the mission that did not necessarily involve enemy action.

The difference of communicating from a shelled out, derelict, fortified compound (which during previous tours I thought quite simple and did the job) to communicating from a large multi-national control centre that has eyes all over a city is phenomenal, but what will never surprise me is people’s inability to quite simply use their voice. Communicating via text or email is fine but where possible, a scheduled meeting or conference call (face to face, over video chat, or even radio comms with a structured format and agenda to follow) would always prove beneficial. Agenda’s are there for a reason and I would aim to hit the headlines and stay on track. As we all know too well in the current pandemic, lockdown life we are living: a free 40-minute zoom is gone in the blink of an eye and before you know it, participants are logging on for the 3rd time nearly 2 hours later! Clearly, on occasion, these meetings would need a follow up email but the first knowledge of change or future work, if possible, is better delivered verbally.

I would always offer opportunity for feedback or back briefs after the meetings to ensure that everybody understood the direction given. It was always nice when I was afforded that opportunity and I remembered that.


Micro Management.

The long screwdriver effect ruins confidence and stifles initiative.

Any position I held throughout my career I was there on merit of my qualifications, my knowledge, my ability, and work ethic. I am sure that went for everybody else too. So why do some feel the need to over manage people, sometimes to the extent that they could have done the mission, task or job themselves to save others the bother. I believe that is down to their own self-preservation, fear, and their own faults as a leader/ manager. Everybody will make mistakes, how is an organisation or its people supposed to learn or grow if they do not.

Micromanagement is something that I have seen a lot of and many of the culprits were more concerned about their next promotion than the job they were currently in. People like this are unable to understand or recognise the natural ability of the people around them, this is extremely dangerous and counterproductive.

Trust the systems in place, trust your people and if they do make mistakes then back them up.


Management of routine (Battle rhythm)

Whilst deployed as a team I believe it is vital settle into a sustainable routine as quickly as possible and the routine must consider all members of your team if you are to expect the best results. This must be established quickly and maintained, regardless of your eagerness to get things done. The consistent calling of emergency meetings, the out of hours emails, the continuous movement of goal posts will be detrimental to the team's wellbeing and moral, resulting in a feeling of constant pressure, people's work will deteriorate and they will burn out quickly. Setting myself or my team unrealistic goals could endanger people's lives. I have always been a realist and completely understand that on occasions goalposts would have to move at the last minute, however, if this was to happen too often, it would be down to bad planning or indeed an unrealistic goal to begin with.

To be continued...


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