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Top Three Design Lessons Learned in Military Deployments (Part III)

In our first two posts, we described the important roles communication and teamwork play in the architecture and design profession. Now we will wrap up by describing how decision-making and command climate are critical factors in both military service and design. Decision making skills and the effect of command climate are essential aspects of great leadership which leads to success in military deployments and design work.

The One-Third / Two-Thirds Rule: Ryan Hopkins

Military leaders are taught to use the One-Third / Two-Thirds Rule time management tool when planning an assigned mission. If there are 48 hours until an operation commences, then the leader should use no more than 16 hours (1/3) to develop a plan, while allowing at least 32 hours (2/3) for subordinate leaders to develop and refine the plan. This ensures that leaders are allocating the majority of time to their subordinates for planning and rehearsing the mission.

Making successful decisions is a balance of experience and initiative. As a company commander deployed to Kuwait in 2013, our unit of 150 Soldiers was responsible for providing security for bus transportation routes throughout the small country 24-hours per day, seven days per week, for the eight month deployment. There were four platoons in the company, each with a lieutenant and senior non-commissioned officer assigned to lead the 35 to 40 Soldiers for training, operations, and administrative tasks. I trusted the strong abilities of the platoon leaders to prepare detailed plans for their assigned routes and balance team schedules to cover their assignments around the clock. When transportation routes or schedules were changed, it necessitated on-the-fly changes to our security schedules. When I received notice of an impending change to our operations, I always brought one of the platoon leaders with me to the initial mission briefing. The balance of experience and initiative at the meeting enabled the platoon leader and me to quickly develop a plan that could be executed without delay in a time-sensitive environment. The decision-making process that we developed ensured that we clearly communicated any issue across our team; we worked to together to develop the most effective solution, and we closely managed our available time to quickly implement any changes. This process was used throughout our deployment to ensure that we effectively met our mission requirements, and minimized errors during a dynamic and constantly changing environment.

The process of clear communication, teamwork, and time-management can be applied to many organizational obstacles and can support the efficient implementation of problem. It is a particularly effective strategy for planning how to tackle complicated design challenges. Establish a task timeline by working backwards from the established deadline, and allocate 1/3 of available time to planning and 2/3 to production. Every project will have unique factors, but applying effective time management techniques can organize and support the design process.

Command Climate: Stephen Katz

On the quarterdeck of the battalion headquarters, the commanding officer posts their “commander’s intent.” This is usually a one sentence message which seeks to distill the values that the CO wants every member of the battalion to remember. The commander’s intent is a small piece of what becomes the command climate: It is the values, practices, policies and general atmosphere which guide the actions, behaviors and decisions of the battalion members. A positive command climate can have a significant effect on productivity, personnel retention and the ease with which the commander can make organizational adjustments.

Achieving a positive command climate is a matter of constant assessment of what policies, procedures and messaging techniques are working and which ones need adjustment. Halfway through our deployment to Iraq, we participated in a command climate survey that was run by the regiment we reported to. The results revealed a need for several areas of adjustment in terms of how the senior leadership engages the battalion personnel. The CO then called a meeting of the officers and challenged us to do a better job at communicating the commander’s intent. The CO’s message to the battalion leaders was clear. He wanted us to change the command climate at our levels.

I met with the company chief and we decided to work harder at communicating what the CO’s messages were to the members of Alpha Company. The idea was to underline the unity of command, build trust and let people know that their ideas mattered. For the remainder of the deployment, we incorporated command climate reinforcement topics to our daily Alpha Company meetings. Almost immediately, we saw a noticeable improvement in how Alpha Company understood their important role in the missions and projects our battalion was engaged in throughout Al Anbar Province. They knew their opinions mattered because we were listening.

Architects hold a natural leadership position on building projects. Owners, engineers and contractors tend to expect us to sow all the pieces of a building project together and direct traffic for building systems management. This is in addition to setting the overall project design goals. We therefore have a unique ability to set up a positive organizational climate through our actions and behavior.

The Bottom Line

The military teaches its leaders fundamental skills that are necessary to lead and manage a complex and diverse organization. However, it is the individual military leader’s responsibility to apply the appropriate leadership skills to specific scenarios. Our goal was to provide insight to the leadership methods of the military and encourage design professionals to apply some of these techniques to everyday scenarios in the design studio. Similar to the military, it is ultimately your professional judgment and flexibility in applying your knowledge and experience that determines your success.

Stephen Katz is an Architect and Senior Associate in the Corporate Campus Headquarters practice area at Gensler’s Chicago office. He was a Lieutenant in the US Naval Reserves serving as an Officer in the Civil Engineer Corps and Naval Construction Force. He was deployed to Al Anbar Province, Iraq in 2006 with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Two Five, serving as Alpha Company Commander and Anti-Terrorism Force Protection Officer. His unit was attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Forward (I MEF FWD) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Contact him at stephen_katz@gensler.com.
Ryan Hopkins is an Architect and Project Manager in the Mission Critical practice area at Gensler’s Chicago office. He was deployed to Laghman Province, Afghanistan in 2008 as a Task Force Engineer, and to Kuwait in 2013 as a Company Commander. Both deployments were in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He has 11 years of military service, and continues to serve in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as a Major and Engineer officer. He is currently assigned as the Operations Officer for the 337th Brigade Engineer Battalion (55th Armored Brigade Combat Team/28th Infantry Division). Contact him at ryan_hopkins@gensler.com.

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