For many businesses operating in today’s difficult business environment, the restriction on their resources has proved to be a real constraint in developing effective operational capabilities. These constraints have forced companies to make difficult decisions and sometimes miss opportunities because of restrictions on finance.
Lessons from the past
In the last few years of the Second World War, the German Army was facing defeat. With limited resources, high attrition and few reserves or replacements, the military needed to radically rethink the way they used resources. The critical examination of the problem lead to an innovation in organisational design. The concept of the battle group was born; simply, this focused capability around tasks or missions.
Form followed function
The aim of the battle group was to create transient organisations that were optimised to fulfil a specific task or phase in an operation. Once the task was complete, the organisation’s assets were then deconstructed in order to be free to be reconstituted into the next force structure assigned against future missions.
The concentration of capabilities, into a single focused unit that would be shared across the wider organisation, allowed for deep specialisation and capability to be developed. High levels of experience quickly grew within these organisations that allowed for greater operational utility.
Initiation through common practices and procedures
In order to provide organisational cohesion during operational sequencing, the transient organisation needed to share staff (planning and communications) procedures. This allowed the organisation to quickly understand the different components of the battle group, even if they had not worked with that capability before. The plug and play methodology proved to be highly effective as capabilities could be utilised beyond their formation grouping. This thinking also allowed for individual sub units to understand the rhythm of the organisation’s decision, planning and implementation cycle, and this in turn, provided the platform for concurrent activity and sped up the organisation’s operational tempo.
Optimised efficiency and de-duplication
The freeing-up of specialist capability meant that specific formation units did not need to duplicate capability. They understood that they would be allocated specialist capability depending on the task they were given. The cycling of capability meant that there were high levels of utilisation throughout the German formations, bluntly making the most of what they had.
Command, control and co-ordination
These innovative organisations did present new challenges for leaders. They needed to be more efficient, understand staff work, have wider technical knowledge and be proficient in communications. The leader needed to focus on communicating their intentions across an organisation they have seldom worked with.
Better leaders, better performance
The Germans had always invested a great deal of time in selecting and training their leaders from Officers through to the most junior leaders. This proved dividends and allowed the Germans to remain operational efficiency and be effective even in the latter stages of the War.