The concept of decentralized command has been around for a while. It was presented to the business world in a big way when retired Navy SEAL commanders Jocko Willinks and Leif Babin and their book “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win”. In the book they explain that decentralized command is about empowering the people under you in order to build a culture where people take ownership of problems and solutions without passing blame.
By giving authority to those under you, people own up to more things. For example, if you task someone to lead a specific assignment and give them almost full autonomy to plan and strategize, they will give it their full effort as it is their plan. Should you still be there to help tweak things in the plan? Of course. As a leader you have a different vantage point that lower level individuals do not. Share this with them and teach them to do it. This system helps breed a culture of success that can be sustained no matter the size of the organization.
Lazy Delegation VS Decentralized Command
The main difference between being a lazy leader and a leader who has a successful decentralized command is the culture it breeds. Lazy leaders can be seen as people who delegate jobs to others due to the dislike for the task. Another example of lazy delegation by a leader is when they give tasks that they’re supposed to do to subordinates. In the business world, if a manager is told to create a business report but doesn’t want to do it, they just tell someone on their team to do it instead; this sort of lazy delegation gets noticed and the attitudes within that team and even that organization will change negatively.
In a proper decentralized organization, leaders complete their own tasks. In some cases leading by example means you do tasks others would find to be “beneath you”. The tasks that get delegated are meant to promote growth and instill a sense of ownership with said tasks. Letting someone lead a specific project allows them to get a feel for a leadership role, it also allows you to step back and look at the bigger picture while they focus on the more granular aspects of it, which in turn lets you give them advice that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Quick To Act
A short answer as to why businesses will benefit from a decentralized style of command is: reaction time. In a regular hierarchical structure, decisions have to be approved by the boss, it takes time for this to happen if the action is at the bottom of the chain. When you empower all team members, you have multiple points of decision making. What used to take days or weeks to be approved can now be done in a day. This also impacts the efficiency of the team. If lower management needs to acquire pens for their team in order to finish a project, it would make no sense to wait a week to get approval to buy pens from the person at the top of the chain of command.
More Time For Leaders
All of the aforementioned things allow leaders to focus on the bigger picture as well as all tasks that require quick reaction time. With a team taking burdens in different departments, a weight is lifted from those in higher leadership roles. Not having to deal with multiple small items in a day frees up so much time. Having a much bigger window to meet with important clients or planning the company’s expansion are some of the other tasks leaders could be doing with their newly acquired time.
Growth Of People And The Organization
Having a decentralized command structure allows for groups of any size to stay agile and quickly react to change. Being a controlling type of leader in a small organization is still a viable strategy because all of the staff probably work the same hours and having them all need supervision at the same time would be a rare occurrence. Once a group grows to where people are on different shifts and where there are subteams it becomes physically impossible to micromanage. The great thing about starting with a decentralized structure is that it can scale infinitely. By instilling a culture of success where teamwork and owning everything you do is valued, growth happens organically and whenever new members are added they still exhibit the traits your original team has. It essentially becomes a self sustaining and self growing organization.
Ultimately your goal is to build leaders in order to have a stronger organization that will allow you the freedom to focus on priority tasks. You allow people to lead, in order to get better at it. You provide your unique insights whenever help is needed and this encourages growth instead of inhibiting it by punishing mistakes. By allowing anyone to take ownership and step up to lead a project, you’re fostering a culture built around success and coordination that will show throughout your organization and everyone will be better because of it.