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Lessons from the Battlefield - Part 2: Shared Consciousness

RhumbixApril 29, 2020 • 5 min read

In the first article of this series, Empowered Execution was introduced as a more effective way to operate in highly dynamic environments where the pace and scale of change makes it necessary to react quickly to new information in order to be successful. As General McChrystal himself points out, “In today’s changing environment, with more information shared at ever-greater speeds, often even the most efficient organization can’t keep up.” At its core, Empowered Execution means pushing decision-making as far down the hierarchical ladder as possible so that the organization can be more agile.

If individuals on the front lines who are most exposed to new information and changing conditions have to wait to “run it up the chain of command” to get a decision and act, the situation on the ground continues to evolve and the decision is already outdated by the time action is taken.

McChrystal puts it simply, “It’s important not just to get things right, but to get them right quickly enough to win.

The realization comes quickly, though, that Empowered Execution alone can be a recipe for disaster if not coupled with the right information and context at the front lines to make good decisions faster. That right information and context is what McChrystal refers to as Shared Consciousness.

Build and Maintain a Shared Consciousness

Under General McChrystal, JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) had the most elite, small teams of Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Delta Force. They were teams where every member had the same information and a synchronized sense of purpose. But at the next level up, the organization was lacking tight communication and shared consciousness.

When McChrystal took over command of JSOC, he set out to expand the shared consciousness that the ground troops had to the higher levels of the organization. “Not everybody can know everything,” says McChrystal, “but you have to have enough linkage so that it pulls you into a similar relationship that the small team enjoys.” He started holding a daily updates among 50 or so top leaders in the organization.

By the time he gave up command, attendance of the virtual meeting had ballooned to more than 7,000 leaders and operators in the field. The daily meetings were essential to spread awareness and synchronization.

Shared Consciousness in Construction

Construction organizations, like the military, need to find a way to communicate the right information regularly enough for everybody to develop a shared consciousness.

But beware that more information available to everyone does not equal shared consciousness. As McChrystal points out, “Despite having copious intelligence, GPS information, and a wealth of other data, JSOC wasn’t able to effectively anticipate events.”

Having more information feels empowering, but “more data does not equal more predictability,” McChrystal says. It wasn’t until the daily Operations & Intelligence meetings were used to share the most relevant information, spark discussions across disparate groups with different but complementary information, and promulgate the Commander’s Intent that a Shared Consciousness began to develop.

Furthermore, it’s not about disseminating information from the top down as happens in a more traditional command and control structure. Relevant information can come from anywhere. Yes, field operators do need to get the relevant information from headquarters, but just as important, leaders in the home office need relevant information from field operators on the ground.

It’s the relevant information being shared regardless of rank or source that develops a shared consciousness that permeates an organization.

Enabling and Encouraging a Shared Consciousness

As pointed out in Lessons from the Battlefield – Part I, instead of sharing critical, time-sensitive information with foremen that could produce a better build, we keep it in spreadsheets at the home office.

What’s more, some of the most actionable field data from the foremen in the field is forced through old systems and antiquated processes where the information becomes stale quickly. By the time it’s made available, it has been stripped of most of its value other than for pure documentation. By the time field data makes it into the hands of project managers and above, they are now making reactionary decisions with old information.

For the most important information, foremen share it via phone calls and texts such that it’s disconnected from other important context. We’re putting out fires to avoid disaster instead of solving problems to embrace opportunity.

The Rhumbix platform enables a Shared Consciousness in construction by allowing foremen to easily and quickly get information to all project stakeholders up the chain of command. In doing so, the Daily Profit-Loss Dashboard presents project managers with relevant, timely information to make better decisions.

At the same time, that analysis is filtered right back down into the hands of each foreman via our Foreman Feedback feature so they too have the relevant context on project progress, and their contributions toward project success.

Shared Consciousness + Empowered Execution

Put simply, Empowered Execution to decide and act in the field, coupled with the Shared Consciousness to have those decisions be good decisions, will fundamentally change the construction industry.

Crews in the field will be better able to keep projects on track by responding quickly to changing conditions with better tactical decisions.

Similarly, superintendents and project managers will be better informed as to the nature of those changing conditions so they can make better strategic decisions and anticipate needs in the field.


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