Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 22, Issue 51;   December 28, 2022: Joint Leadership Teams: OODA

Joint Leadership Teams: OODA


Some teams, business units, or enterprises are led not by individuals, but by joint leadership teams of two or more. They face special risks that arise from the organizations that host them, from the team they lead, or from within the joint leadership team itself.
A street sign at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama

A street sign at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. It's a play on words, of course. Photo by Staff Sgt. Quay Drawdy, Air University Public Affairs, courtesy Wikimedia.

As defined in the previous post, a joint leadership team (JLT) forms when an organization decides "…to delegate jointly to more than one person primary responsibility for a business unit, task force, or project." Arrangements of this form can work well in some contexts. But one contextual attribute that flashes a red warning signal for JLTs is volatility. That is, when rapid response to a changing environment is required, Joint Leadership Teams are at a clear disadvantage. One powerful tool for understanding the sources of this disadvantage is a model of decision-making called OODA.

A brief introduction to OODA

OODA was originally developed as a model of aerial combat by Colonel John Boyd, who served in both the US Army Air Corps and later in the US Air Force as a fighter pilot and military strategist. He became a visionary leader in developing military strategy and doctrine from the Korean conflict through the first Gulf War.

Very briefly, according to the OODA model, decision-making in volatile environments is an iterative process. The decision-maker cycles repeatedly through four stages, beginning with "Observe." That is, we observe what we can about the environment. Next, we "Orient." We make meaning of what we observed. Next, we "Decide." We develop a set of options and decide what to do. Next, we "Act." We execute the option we decided to use. Observe. Orient. Decide. Act. Then it starts all over again. For a more detailed explanation, see "OODA at Work," Point Lookout for April 6, 2011.

The key to success in combat, according to the OODA model, is to cycle through your OODA loop more rapidly than your opponent can cycle through theirs. If you can do that, you can seize and maintain the initiative, and thereby shape the outcome. And it works. It works really, really well.

And the model applies outside the realm of combat. It applies even when the source of contextual volatility is due to the acts of a team of cyber-criminals (think: Yahoo data breach 2013), or a market competitor offering a disruptive new product (think: Blackberry vs. iPhone).

But the OODA model applies even when the source of contextual volatility is non-sentient, as in natural and human-made catastrophes. For example, it applies in a storm (think: Hurricane Katrina 2005), or a nuclear reactor meltdown (think: Chernobyl 1986). In these cases, success depends on the incident command team cycling through its OODA loop more rapidly than the characteristic time constants of the incident they're responding to.

The individual leader's process according to OODA

So let's first examine how an individual leader of a business unit could apply the OODA model. After we understand that, we'll explore what OODA can tell us about JLT processes.

Observe: Collect data by means of the senses
The leader The key to success, according to the OODA
model, is to cycle through your OODA loop
more rapidly than you opponent
can cycle through theirs
senses the environment using whatever means and sensors are available. Sources include reports from subordinates, dashboards, information from the leader's personal network or other intelligence sources — anything that might help. Speed, accuracy and focus are essential.
Orient: Analyze and synthesize the data to form a current mental perspective
Orientation is the synthesis of images, views, and impressions of the relevant parts of the world, influenced by experience, tradition, and the evolving situation.
Decide: Determine a course of action
Given an understanding of the environment, the leader creates a set of possible responses and selects one.
Act: Implement decisions
The final step of the loop is executing the selected option. It might not produce what the leader expected, but whatever happens, the leader returns to the Observe step and the cycle repeats.

That's the OODA loop for an individual leader. It probably doesn't fit every decision-making experience you can recall, in part because it can be interrupted by events. Also, unless you try to follow the OODA model intentionally, in a disciplined manner, you end up doing something else. For example, some decision-makers defer the "D" step so long that the environment closes out all options but one. Or because of budget cuts, they can no longer execute the "A" step they chose. Applying OODA in the organizational context — or any context really — does require intention and discipline.

The Joint Leadership Team's process according to OODA

Let's turn now to what OODA tells us about the decision-making process of a Joint Leadership Team.

Observe: Collect data by means of the senses
Unlike individuals, the JLT has multiple observers — each member of the JLT is an observer. But the observers don't all look at the same things, and they don't make all their observations simultaneously. The result is that each member of the JLT has a unique view of the environment.
This difference in observations has effects that can ripple through the following stages of the OODA loop, providing fuel for debate at every stage. To limit these effects, the JLT must take steps to reconcile their different observations.
One other difference is that in JLTs, the members observe each other. Seeing how other members of the JLT observe and respond to their observations affects the members of the JLT.
Orient: Analyze and synthesize the data to form a current mental perspective
The Orient stage offers another set of differences between individual leaders and JLTs. Each member of the JLT makes meaning of what they observe in their own unique way, based on their own knowledge, preferences, and experiences. For this reason, a JLT can simultaneously hold several different views of the situation. That condition is much less likely for an individual leader.
Moreover, the meaning the members make of what they observe is affected by the meaning they make of their observations of each other. So, for example, if one member attaches importance to an environmental factor, that can cause other members to adjust their assessments of the significance of that factor. This means that whenever members of the team meet or communicate with each other, there is a possibility that their perspectives of the situation can change, even though no new information has arrived from the environment.
Decide: Determine a course of action
Even though both the individual leader and the JLT must choose one option from among many possible courses of action, only the JLT can find itself engaged in vigorous debate. And only the JLT can find itself drawn into destructive conflict.
Debates take time. And destructive conflict can cause permanent harm to relationships. The JLT is exposed to these risks; the individual is not.
Act: Implement decisions
In the Act stage of the OODA model, the JLT has a clear advantage. Because it has multiple members, the JLT is better able to monitor the execution of its decision. In some cases, this advantage can be significant. But an individual leader can address this problem by delegating the monitoring task to enough capable parties.

Last words

Many of these differences between the individual leader and the JLT tend to cause the JLT to be less responsive than the individual leader with regard to changes in the environment. I'll examine the consequences of this and other differences next time. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: The Politics of Forming Joint Leadership Teams  Next Issue

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For more Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of Warabout Col. John Boyd, read the biography, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, by Robert Coram. Order from Amazon.com. Col. Boyd's contributions to planning the first Gulf War are especially fascinating.

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About Point Lookout

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This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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