Monthly Archives: October 2015

Trying to Improve your Company? Try this…

Are you frustrated with the performance of your team? Upset that they don’t follow the directions they’re given? Do you wish they’d just do what they’re supposed to?

Maybe the problem is not your team. Perhaps it’s that you expect them to follow. What if you, instead, worked with them to also be leaders? What if you changed the model from Leader-Follower to Leader-Leader?

Turn This Ship Around Book CoverI read  Turn This Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders. In this book, L. David Marquet, a retired U.S. Navy Captain, chronicles his experience of taking the crew of a nuclear submarine under his command from a Leader-Follower structure to what he calls Leader-Leader. As a result of this transition, the crew and their boat go from performing at the bottom of their class to performing at the top of their class. The story is told in a chronological fashion, sharing anecdotes that help you relate to the changes that are made.

As an Agile Coach, a few things in this book stood out to me, and I want to share them with you.

It Worked on a Nuclear Submarine

First, I often hear “Agile won’t work here because…” People often finish that phrase with some unique reason why the status quo of the organization cannot be changed to a different, less command-and-control structure, more humane organization. If there’s one place I could see a distribution of decision making authority not working, it would be on a nuclear submarine. Yet that turns out to not be the case. To read how Captain Marquet not only changed the culture, but also had massive improvements in performance, was quote enlightening.

Take Action

Second, this book is actionable. This book is not just a story about the adventures of the submarine Santa Fe. The book is much more than a biography. Captain Marquet shares his philosophy, and the  practices that allowed the Leader-Leader culture to take hold. There are a great number of practical “mechanisms” and “questions to consider” within each chapter. The mechanisms and questions provide a framework for taking the ideas of the author and applying them to your own situation.

Context Matters

Third, I appreciate the fact that the author makes it clear that he is not providing a recipe for others to follow. Too often I see organizations take a “Cookie Cutter” approach to agile and lose the reasoning or the philosophy behind the practice. These organizations ignore the local context of their teams and require blind adherence to a specific set of rituals, anticipating that it will bring about real change in the organization. Captain Marquet invites the reader to explore what Leader-Leader might look like for their individual context, and to make decisions that are appropriate for them.

Let me leave you with this suggestion

This would be a perfect book for a team of people at the same company to work through, sharing their reflections and insights.


Here are some quotes that really stuck with me. I hope they resonate with you, and lead you to purchase Turn This Ship Around.

The first one strikes me because it correctly points out that many people apply an industrial management approach to knowledge work. That’s a huge mistake.

“In our modern world, the most important work we do is cognitive; so, it’s not surprising that a structure developed for physical work isn’t optimal for intellectual work. People who are treated as followers have the expectations of followers and act like followers. As followers, they have limited decision-making authority and little incentive to give the utmost of their intellect, energy, and passion. Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative. While this doesn’t matter much for rowing a trireme, it’s everything for operating a nuclear-powered submarine.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. ”

How often do we task teams with getting “the right information” to management so that they can make a decision. This approach turns that on its head:

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”

In this quote, replace the word “Operators” with a role in your organization (e.g., software developers, consultants, project managers), and see how true it is for you:

“….emphasis on following the procedure can have a stultifying effect. We take bright operators, train them extensively, and then tell them that the most important thing is to follow the procedure.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And, the last one I want to share relates to top-down monitoring of people:

Don’t preach and hope for ownership; implement mechanisms that actually give ownership. Eliminating the tickler did that for us. Eliminating top-down monitoring systems will do it for you. I’m not talking about eliminating data collection and measuring processes that simply report conditions without judgment. Those are important as they “make the invisible visible.” What you want to avoid are the systems whereby senior personnel are determining what junior personnel should be doing.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 98). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There are many more profound insights, so go get the book and read it.