Book Summary: Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal

General Stanley McChrystal’s premise is that efficiency is no longer the most important thing to strive for in your organization. As someone who loves efficiency, I was slightly appalled, but also intrigued. The author does a great job explaining the complexity of our world and how its unpredictability makes adaptability imperative. This book will help leadership teams bring clarity to the organization’s mission and values so that it can empower its leaders to adapt and make decisions that allow the organization to thrive.

3 Quotes You Need To Hear

“Efficiency remains important, but the ability to adapt to complexity and continual change has become an imperative (p.9)”

“Few of us are criticized if we faithfully do what has worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be our measure of success. There’s likely a place in paradise for people who tried hard, but what really matters is succeeding. If that requires you to change, that’s your mission (p.16).”

“The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing…A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates (p.232).”

2 Big Takeaways

The complexity of the world requires a new emphasis on adaptability. The world has become more complex than ever. Thanks to technology, the world has become flatter and information moves at an alarmingly fast speed. It is now impossible to predict everything, thus to try to plan things out step by step is pointless. Due to the unpredictable nature of our world, it’s becoming less common to create systems where you move from known x to known y. Efficiency, once the sole icon on the hill, must make room for adaptability in structures, processes, and mind-sets. 

Consider a soccer game. A coach doesn’t prepare by trying to predict every possession, but instead you train your players to adapt to whatever situation occurs. Thus, once the game starts a majority of decision-making is done by the players, not the coach. The coach’s impact is made by assigning players to primary roles (goalie, forward, etc.), planning the team’s big picture strategy, developing culture, and equipping the players to execute the mission of the team. Executive leadership in bigger organizations must do the same with their teams and empower the individuals to make the majority of decisions, thus allowing the team to move quickly and effectively. 


Teams are the secret to creating an adaptable organization. An average team will outperform a great individual. No individual can have all the information. This is why hierarchal structures must move to a more networking structure. A team approach is necessary and when you have too many people for one team, then you need a team of teams. To do this well, your organization will need: 1.) a clear purpose for the organization, 2.) strong trust within teams, 3.) over-communication across all teams, 4.) empowered execution for all members, and 5.) executive leadership that is diligent on bringing clarity and developing culture. 

1 Recommendation

The reason that I picked up this book was that General Stanley McChrystal’s premise is that efficiency is no longer the most important thing to strive for in your organization. As someone who loves efficiency, I was slightly appalled, but also intrigued. The author does a great job explaining the complexity of our world and how its unpredictability makes adaptability imperative. As McChrystal shares stories of his tours in Iraq, it’s easy to connect the dots to the need for adaptability in one’s organization. I would recommend this book for those on an executive leadership team in a middle to large organization. As complexity increases, both in our world and in our organization, gone are the days of executive teams holding all the decision power. This book will help leadership develop clarity of the organization’s mission and values so that it can empower its leaders to adapt and make decisions on behalf of the whole organization.  

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