David Silverman Presentation, co-author of "Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World"

Learn from Entrepreneur, best-selling author and former Navy SEAL, David Silverman: Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CrossLead, Inc. Founded in 2016, CrossLead is a technology company whose leadership and management framework is used by leaders and companies around the globe.


David Silverman

Founder and CEO, CrossLead, Inc.





The next speaker is David Silverman, co-author of team of Teams and founder and CEO of Cross Lead. Mr. Silverman spent 13 years as a US Navy Seal leaving as a Lieutenant Commander. I'm such a huge fan of his book, and every time I talk with him, I learn so much. He describes the incredible story of why in 2004, the Joint Special Forces Task Force was failing to achieve its mission of dismantling Al Qaeda in Iraq. And what they did about it, their work led to not only them achieving their strategic objectives, but also led to a deep and critical rethinking of almost everything across all the US military services and in commercial industry as well. What's so amazing to me is that everything he talks about I know will resonate deeply with the DevOps enterprise community. I asked him to be as specific as possible about the outcomes of their work. Regardless of your opinions on that war, I know you'll appreciate the impact that there are new ways of thinking and operating enabled. Please welcome Dave Silverman.


Thank you, gene. I'm excited to be here at the DevOps Enterprise Summit. Today, I'm gonna tell you the story of Cross Lead and how you, how we created a team of teams when we're trying to fight against Al-Qaeda. This story starts, uh, from a personal standpoint with myself. So a little bit of background to help set the stage. I grew up, uh, a military brat bouncing around the company, the country. I moved to more than nine schools in 12 years. And every time I tried to assimilate into a new community, uh, my father and mother would put me into a team of some type. And by the time I got to high school, I sort of realized that what I was sort of good at was, was aquatic sports, specifically water polo. And I was fortunate enough to be on a super high performing team, um, when you're trying to figure out what you're gonna do next stage of your life.


'cause at this point, all I really understood was being a student athlete. I, I wanted to follow my father's footsteps as service. And so I decided to join the Navy with the Naval Academy, and ultimately, I was trying to become a Navy seal. The reason why I was, because there's no professional sports in, um, water polo, really, in the United States. And so the highest, uh, form of a team that was elite that I could find, uh, at least that I think made sense for me was the Navy SEAL team. So I graduated the Naval Academy in 98, went on to seal training in San Diego, California. This is an image of me in some of my, my counterparts being, uh, surf, tortured in the water as they were forging young men into what would become later frogmen and graduated, uh, in the fall, sorry, the winter of, um, the early winter of, uh, 2 19 99.


And out of the original 165 guys that started in our class, only 19 of us graduated, we would go on to the SEAL teams. And this is, again, pre nine 11 and, um, had a, you know, had a pretty amazing experience. And then nine 11 happened, our entire world changed. And several deployments later, I would find myself in Baghdad commanding forces, uh, that was trying to compete against an enemy that was morphing and changing pretty quickly. And this became sort of the foundational experience for me operationally. Um, and when we got back, a group of us got together and we try to capture these key, the core lessons of this experience. This really this culture change initiative that took place over many years, uh, in the book team of teams. So to understand the history, it's important to sort of go back to the inception of special operations in the United States.


Um, over time, there's always been people that have been called up to do things that most other people didn't want to do or wouldn't do, uh, in service of the nation. And, uh, and then early 1980s, uh, actually 1979, during the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt, there was a big study done that said, Hey, what, what happened? Why, why aren't we capable of actually achieving our objectives? And so out of that, they formed Joint Special Operations Command, and they quickly assimilated the best special operations components around the different services into a comprehensive, uh, unit. Its unclassified mission was to, uh, come out with training tactics and procedures for how you would combat terrorism threats around the globe. Its classified mission was to be a standing task force that would respond in nine, six hours or less to any threat around the world. And very quickly, this organization became part of a much larger counter, uh, terrorism apparatus that involved several different government organizations.


Here's this, these highlight sort of the top ones, the CIA, the NASA security agency, the, uh, Homeland Security, and the FBI. And very quickly, this organization in the eighties and nineties became world class. We learned how to operate inside of our bureaucracy, and we had great success operating around the battlefield. But our core fundamental challenge was that we were very tribal and siloed in nature. And while this theoretically allowed the organization to compete effectively, so for instance, in our case, the seals and the Army's delta force were sort of, um, rivals. And the idea was that rivalry would actually create a better outcome. Uh, that also became gaps and seams that would become difficult for us to overcome as, as, as the, the world started to change. Our enemy, uh, also was born around the same time we were in the early eighties. They were, uh, Al-Qaeda originally, you know, found its legs in the prisons of Egypt would start to form into a unit in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviets.


And after that global Jihad, they went back and dispersed across more than 47 countries where they started to take root and started to grow and, and flourish. Over time, this enemy was pretty different than previous terrorist threats that we were used to dealing with. In fact, you know, when after nine 11 we were trying to figure out how to combat this threat, we wanted to see the enemy, uh, how we looked at ourselves, meaning it looked like some type of, of leadership structure where if you could decapitate the top, they call it the two plus seven, in this case, bin Laden zawahiri and his seven operational lieutenants, you could theoretically have decisive effects. But the reality was the enemy was very different than than most organizations that we come up against. Previous to this, it operates much more analogous to a network where it morphed and changed and metastasized in ways that were counterintuitive to a traditional hierarchical structure.


And it was leveraging technology that was exploding onto the market in the early two thousands associated with mobile and social. And by leveraging these tools, its ability to communicate and disseminate key lessons and learnings rapidly across, uh, different geographies was effectively frictionless. And so, very quickly, this organization that was highly nimble and agile, uh, started to have decisive effects against what we consider to be an elite, uh, but very consistent hierarchical organizational construct associated with counter-terrorism. So the, the challenge is, we, we said, well, you know, we hate to lose. We gotta figure out how to change. And to understand sort of the core fundamental challenge, I think it's important to maybe take a step and look at best practice associated with management. Because over time, what we've seen is, is, you know, the military at, in the early two thousands was very much a byproduct of, of how organizations led and managed, you know, over the last a hundred years.


So if you go back to the beginning of, uh, any large organization, you gotta go back to the second industrial revolution where a guy named Frederick Winslow Taylor comes on the scene in the early, uh, 19 hundreds, late 18 hundreds. And he basically, uh, looked at a supply chain line and said, I wanna figure out a way to drive better operational efficiency, uh, in my uncle's, um, manufacturing plant. And his goal was, again, to take out any of the waste associated with how the line produced. He went around with tape measures and stopwatches with the, the goal of structuring every single component of that, of that assembly line is something relatively simple and repeatable. And then, and then that was the advent of what would become scientific management theory or taylorism or Fordism. And it's his whole thesis was, we wanna take decision making rights away from the individual, standardize how they operate, put the decision making rights with a single plant manager, and then drive operational efficiencies.


And over time, this started to explode. And it was sort of the advent of the modern large organization, because as organizations like Ford and GM and others took this, they started scaling this, and you started to see, you know, pretty significant results. Then Peter Drunker comes along and says, Hey, how do we apply these core lessons, uh, to the rest of the organization looking at the various other components? And if we're trying to differentiate between two large companies, ultimately bottom line growth was gonna become paramount. We need to figure out how to master this simple. Now, in order to create, you know, sustainable returns and management by objective or smart goals became the process by which organizations, uh, managed their performance on a consistent basis. Now, after, after the, uh, second World War in the us, the GI Bill put a lot of people into the education system and made education much more democratized to the masses.


And so you started to have this new economy emerge, which is a knowledge economy where if you could leverage the collective intelligence of the organization, break it into small pods, theoretically you could drive some innovation, which would create differentiation with between you and other organizations. And Steve Jobs was sort of famous for this. I don't think this movement is around any one person, but I like to use Steve Jobs because he was one of the persons that took groups, put 'em into small sort of research and development teams, and try to create innovative products separately, right? And the whole idea here was now you're in a global supply chain, things are more complicated. How do you simplify those across, you know, multiple different geographies and collaborative management practice started to emerge in the environment. But like most things, we have not stayed still. This, the advent of, of social and digital has created another major shift into this new digital economy where we think now every individual potentially can have decisive effects on the organization.


And if you're gonna be successful, you have to be able to adapt and thrive in complexity. And ultimately in the organizational management practice, we believe across your team of teams is a, is what we emerged to as a solution, trying to figure out how to deal with this new complex operating environment we're in. So when you're talking about operating environments and the types of practices you can apply, there was a Welsh philosopher named, uh, David Snowden who created the FIN framework. And the whole idea here was for them to organize around a set of operating conditions where you could apply different practices to achieve effects. So starting off with simple problems where cause and effect are well known, you can apply best practices. This was, you know, precisely the industrial age where, you know, uh, taylorism, you know, sort of maximized, um, as, as, as global economies started to come into the, the place obviously, uh, cause and effect are now separated by space and time.


It makes it for a complicated si situation. So think about a distributed supply chain that's, you know, maybe coming together in a single place to produce something. Well, now maybe good practices are as good as you can get in each, in each individual area, you might have a best practice, but as a collective, it might be a good practice, good practice to get it done. Uh, the next environment would be complexity where cause and effect are only apparent in hindsight. And in this scenario, you have to be able to emerge the solutions if you're going to be successful. So, and the last is chaotic, where there's no relationship between co cause and effect. And I, you know, then you have to practice sort of a novel practice. Basically, you usually see an autocratic leader make a call or a decision that then ultimately starts to find some success.


And then the goal is always to move, move your problem. Set back to simple if you can. Now. So if you look at the modern digital economy and say, well, what environment do we spend most of our time in today? Um, we believe that the combination of speed and interdependencies that have been created through the advent of all this technology has created, uh, multiple different outcomes or complexity in the situation. Which means that we believe today most organizations actually spend most of their time dealing in complex problem sets. And we believe most leadership management practices were actually designed for complicated or simple, uh, products, which is precisely what we found ourselves overseas. So if you understand how we used to operate, uh, as an organization, to some extent, we still do operate like this. Really the advent of, of how we we hunted terrorists was called the F three EA model.


It was designed and developed really in the 1920s and thirties, fighting against organized crime in the US where the idea here was if you found, you have to find who the enemy is, fix their location and space and time, send in a finishing force to capture or neutralize those threats, you extract all the information you can collect on that target set well, or through interrogation. And then you analyze those results within, lead you to figure out the next part of the network. And it becomes this cycle. In our scenario, if you go back to those interagencies, different organizations own different components of this cycle. And every time, let's say the CIA figured out where something was and hand it off to the NSA and the NSA would hand off information to like, you know, a military unit, and then maybe we bring the FBI in to exploit.


And then the whole number of analysts to assess every one of those handoffs was a blink in the system. 'cause this was a very waterfall approach to how we basically were hunting. And those blinks became opportunities in this case, for the enemy to adjust or move. And oftentimes what we found ourselves was playing catch up, and we found it to be incredibly inadequate. What was disorientating for us as operators was we were having great tactical success on a daily basis, engaging with the enemy. So if I went up against an adversary, the chance of that actually being successful was, was, you know, very high, call it 99%. But on the aggregate, if you step back and look at it across, uh, you know, in this case, the, the 27 countries we were deployed, it looked like the problem was getting worse and we were gonna, we were losing.


So our challenge was in this new environment that necessitates a fundamental shift in how you lead and manage what new model can we create to basically allow us to emerge rapidly to solutions and be resilient and costly changing environments. And so we went back to sort of our fundamentals of what made small teams great. And said, well, we know in a small team setting like a, you know, a sealed troop, if I go onto a target, I believe I can adapt faster to my enemy inside of that decision space and have decisive effects. How do I scale that, you know, across an entire enterprise, in this case, across multiple different organizations and communities that more or less have maybe a common mandate, but very different cultures, blackdown and authorities that limited us. So we went back to what made all of us sort of unique, which was our selection and trending process.


And we said, look, all of us come or are self-identify with being a part of an elite team. And so we said, what makes elite teams great? And there's a lot of books that have been written on this, but in my opinion, there's two fundamentals that matter more than anything else. If you're gonna make any small team great, which is first you gotta have trust, and the second you have to be aligned on a common set of purpose and goals. If you don't have these first two capabilities, you really don't have the potential for a high performing team in my mind. And certainly in a small group environment, I would say go back and try to figure out these two components before you really do anything else. Now, at the small team level, there's two other organizational capabilities that manifest almost organically. Um, if you have these first two, which are this con this concept of empowered execution, which means very simply, people tend to know their roles and responsibilities, and they're empowered to basically make decisions inside of a, a framework that's been pre-established by the organization.


And they tend to understand what each other are thinking. And so we call this shared consciousness where there's almost an emergent intelligence that's created by a high density of interactions, uh, and radical transparency. And it's this component that we found to be pretty important as you think about scaling this across the organization. Because in most experiences that, that we've been in, if you have a small elite team, whether it's, you know, in my old world or in the business world, what tends to happen is you tend to grow it, uh, because you say, well, this, this, this thing's having success. Let's, let's, let's do more of it. And so all of a sudden this small team starts to get bigger, it becomes a little bit tougher to manage, it becomes more unruly. And pretty soon, because we wanna make it efficient, we start organizing it into logical structures that are easier to, to understand.


And pretty soon the very thing that made us sort of fast, nimble, and agile gets assumed into what would be a modern day org structure for almost any organization on the planet. Now, if you've done this well, and you look at any individual team inside of the structure, you probably find a nimble, agile team, uh, at least hopefully you would. But at, at an enterprise level, you've clearly lost something. And if we look at our four organizational capabilities, what we believe by design is that share consciousness is the first thing that's compromised. And it makes sense, right? I mean, the whole reason why you structured this was that you wanted to silo off, um, distractions from different teams so they could focus on their specific goals and objectives, uh, and not waste time on other things. But in this new complex world where everything's interdependent, we found that to be a, a, a decisively limiting factor that it created tremendous risk, both for ourselves and for organizations as things adapted and changed.


And it has a compounding effect, obviously, on the other three components, right? So if I'm siloed off now, it's very easy to get misaligned on what goals and objectives are, at least for the enterprise level. Um, trust starts to break down because you just have less visibility in what people are doing. And then inevitably, leadership gets involved and starts pulling decision making space up to their level. So empowerment starts to detract. So it has this compounding effect on all three. Now, in order to be successful in today's environment, what we argue is you have to think of yourselves not as a organization in a hierarchical structure, but more of like a living organism that has multiple different synapses that create this like network where every single individual is basically another node in the network, almost like you would like a brain. And the main goal that we tried to recreate as quickly as possible was how do we create share consciousness across this team of teams?


That was, uh, which was multiple different organizations and agencies spread across more than 27 countries. So we fundamentally tried to do this through process initially by centralizing and creating consistent communication platforms that try to, you know, increase the rate of learning and centralized learning locally. And the idea here was if we all had a common operating picture of what was happening, and we understood what parts of the collective could be energized at any given moment, that way when a Pacific problem emerged, you could, you could self-organize your team into a Pacific Mission-based group that could then focus on that problem, attack it, uh, relentlessly. And then as the problem shifted, you too could shift across your organization to a new group, uh, where you could, again, assimilate the necessary components to be successful. Really, what this became was leading beyond the org chart, because if you go back and remember the organizations that you know, populated this, this, this, this task force, none of those, we had the ability to actually change structures and even roles and responsibilities. Everything was more or less a handshake deal. So we had to find a way to work beyond the, the, the, the confines of like an org chart, and based on needs that were changing rapidly much faster than you could say, get something approved through, let's say Congress, for instance, on driving change.


And last is this, this, this model of radical transparency that was, it was a byproduct of creating this, this, this, these communication mechanisms, uh, gave organizations, um, and specifically leaders the ability to feel much more comfortable with, with letting people run and empower them to, to operate at the local level. The basic thesis here was the person closest to the problem is best situated to solve the problem. So leadership's role really became about making the network sort of function effectively, and they could have the confidence in doing that by the accountability that was created from the transparency of the opera, of, of the operating mechanism. So it allowed leaders to take this eyes on hands-off approach to, uh, leading the organization. So if you're trying to figure out how to actually make this work inside of your organization, there's really two levers that you, that you kind of have to pull, uh, almost simultaneously.


So the first is process and technology. 'cause I group those two things together. Most technology exists to support or improve processes. And, um, and then your, obviously your people, because we are talking about our organization. So let's talk about process first. For us, the first thing that we did when we got overseas is we redefine our daily batter rhythm or our operating rhythm. And the goal here was to say, all right, in a 24 hour cycle, we need to do operations. We need to then process the information that we collect from the operations. We then need to feed that into a shared learning, uh, mechanism, which we, in this case was called the ops intelligence update, which was a 90 minute mean that took place every day across more than 15,000 people in 27 countries. Uh, that then led into small team-based, uh, um, planning sessions, which then resulted in them executing operations.


And we repeat the cycle, uh, every single day, um, 24 hours and seven. And if you looked at this, what it did was it connected the enterprise, uh, and all those different components of it, you know, in this case, the CIA, the NSA, the operators all into one collective. So now, instead of these handoffs, we were bringing them in for this more or less scrum of scrums, the ops intelligence update, where we were cross leveling in real time information, and then able to figure out what we need to do differently the next night. And then we could harness 'em. Also, it energized and activated people three or four layers down the organization to be able to figure out how to, how to horse trade both assets, resources, or, uh, information to unlock productivity across the system. And this had tremendous effects, uh, in the organization. What we've codified this into as an operating framework now that we bring to businesses where you apply very similar principles. So at the bottom you have your basic sprint cycles, which are then augmented by these keystone forms that are integrating multiple different, uh, teams that are operating that along interdependencies, where they're sharing critical learnings and insights. And then those usually fall into some type of quarterly planning and prioritization process, uh, that for longer strategic level decision making, and it transcends the different layers of the organization.


The second component is people. And I believe any organization you can break up into basically four different segments. At the top you have your c-suite, then you have your manees at the bottom, and then you have usually have two layers of management in between those frontline mid-level managers and those senior management or multi-team leaders. Um, now, and if you're trying to affect change in an organization, usually your, your, your top and your bottom are the easiest ones to get on board for a change. And it's sort of intuitive why your c-suite, for instance, is usually where the idea came from. Um, and so for, and, and more or less, they don't have to do a lot of things themselves. So for them to say, well, we're gonna adopt some new, some new, um, initiative, it's relatively straightforward. And for the managers at the bottom, they're more or less along for the ride, right?


They might complain, but ultimately they're gonna more or less do what they're told. It's the middle layer that basically has the decisive votes we find in any type of transformation, those frontline managers. My experience, and this was where I was in Baghdad, Iraq back in 2006, are all from the state of Missouri, which is the motto there is, show me if you can make my life and job better and more effective for me locally, then I'll buy in. If you don't, well then the chances of me, um, adopting what it is you want me to do are pretty, pretty limited. And because this is a relatively large bureaucratic organization, I can be passive progressive. The chances are you're, it's gonna be hard for you to hold me accountable. And then at the, at the top layer, you've got your senior management. And my experience with this group is that change equals risk.


Meaning they've gotten to this position of authority. They're either trying to get to the c-suite, in which case doing something risky is probably disincentivized or they're, they're content in the role that they have. Um, they're just trying to like ride out their career. And if you change fundamentally the model, it becomes something that's disruptive. So if you go back and remember the process discussions and trying to create network effects, our whole goal was to make sure that we were connecting frontline, uh, managers and ee or create, in this case, operators that are dealing with, um, the objective every day with mid-level, senior level, and c-suite management, so that we could get, uh, collective awareness and drive change faster, more effectively. Right? And so as you think about this from a network, uh, perspective, you can actually go into your organization and figure out who are those critical influencers that are disproportionately driving communication decision making that you need to get on board to drive any type of transformation to become more nimble and agile.


So like, what were the outcomes associated with this? So for us, they were pretty staggering. If you go back to Iraq in November of 2003, you know, we define success by, by trying to tamp down radical threats against the stability of the country. And when we first invaded our organization, uh, was initially set up to operate on a 96 hour planning cycle. So one hour, your, your, your beeper goes off, uh, within four hours, your wheels up anywhere in the world you're doing planning, rehearsing, and getting approvals. You do your operation, you come back, you after action, your remit, and then you could go again. So the sit the organization was designed to do basically one every four or five days, okay? So five raids a month is more or less a little bit less capacity than, than what we were designed and organized to do right now.


We had success tactically, but strategically we were still losing. So what would you do if you're a boss? You say, well, you should just go harder, we'll do more. So that's what we did. We went from doing a rate every week to basically doing in the month of August in 2004. So roughly, you know, 7, 8, 6, 7, 8 months later. Um, we were now doing 18 raids in this single month. So, you know, a three x increase in, in outcomes. And at this place, we're doing one every other night, which is about two times faster than we were designed to operate. And as an organization, we were seeing some negative effects. We were taking casualties and we were, our success rate on objectives was, was going down. So we put this new operating model in place, uh, the, the cross lead framework. And by August of 2006, what was 18 raids jumped up to 300 raids, which is basically now 10 every night across this task force, roughly the same number of operators, definitely better technology and capabilities, but you can see we've democratized the decision making and exploded the productivity that we had in the organization.


And the results were pretty impressive. We went from a network that we were having a really hard time getting our hands around to starting to take this, this Al-Qaeda in Iraq, isolating into individual factions and then start, you know, beating on it on Aly basis until it became more or less suppressed. And by the time we got to 2008, 2009, uh, we would say that the, the, the threat was more or less in remission. Now, when you left off the pressure of Al-Qaeda, Iraq metastasizing the into, um, to a new enterprise. But this had decisive effects for us and really changed fundamentally how we thought about leading and managing, which is what we're, we're here to talk about today. And so, as we've applied this to businesses, what we've seen is dramatic increases in productivity and predictability on your outcomes. 'cause you're consistently emerging and evolving on, you know, leveraging this agile best practices that are applied to that at the enterprise level, you usually see much improved results of your customer satisfaction.


And obviously the whole goal of this is to get every single employee engaged in the process, because we believe that in this new environment, every individual is effectively a leader and needs to be treated as such. So that leads us to our sort of the last point, which was, how do you define great leadership in today's environment? Now, we looked hard at what made leaders successful in this, in this, in this organization. And, uh, early days, what you'd say is, you know, we thought of leadership as these, these strategic thinkers, like these chess masters that were moving propent around the board. But the reality of today is we think, and leaders are much more analogous to being a gardener, which is the sole purpose is for you to create an ecosystem or environment that allows your talent to, to flourish effectively. And so if one person doesn't get along with another, you create, you know, create some space, right?


You gotta make sure some people have more sunlight, other people have more water. Ultimately, your whole job is to create an ecosystem where the organization is effectively operating and, and, and, and leveraging. So we looked hard at what are those skill sets that made leader successful in this environment? Looking back at some of our most successful ones, and we brought in psychologists, sociologists, and we landed on seven core competencies that were critically important for leaders in today's environment. Now, the first, especially for a, a special mission unit operator was you had to be functionally excellent. So in this case, could you shoot, move and communicate? If you couldn't do this at a basic standard, you weren't gonna be respected by, by your teammates. And most of our time and training early on was focused on just that. But what we realized as the organization became, you know, increasingly more complex and we, and we, it started to grow, now all of a sudden we're asking leaders to do something pretty different, right?


The, the idea that you could run, shoot, um, jump out of airplanes became almost a commodity, really. It was these other maybe softer skills that became critically important for making a leader successful in environments where that were highly networked and, and changing quickly. And the three that were most important were the ability to connect fundamentally with people, uh, demonstrate empathy and, and motivate them towards a common cause. Uh, having habit formation and discipline and in how you operate so that people could basically figure out what asmuth you were on and be consistent. And arguably the most important is being self-aware, which is, uh, this skill set allows you to bring all the other skill sets that we're talking about here to bear in a, in a, in an environment that is most productive, right? So depending on what's needed, your ability to understand how you're inputting, uh, energy into the system, which, how do you need to shift or adjust to basically achieve the effect that you want.


You can't do that if you don't have self-awareness. So, um, what we're looking for from you guys, what we'd love to get is we're co-authoring a, a, a second book, a really a how to guide on team of teams. And I would love to hear how the stories that I just shared and some of these applications, uh, have applied or how you've applied these locally at your level. Uh, we'd love to get some of these examples and we'll have an opportunity for you to engage directly with us here and then again later on, uh, I think in, uh, today's session. So thank you so much for having me look forward to, uh, to keeping in touch.