Military Training (And What We Can Learn From It)

I was in the army about 10 years ago. Some managers I’ve seen seem to think army style is “outdated” or “too hierarchical” or too “command oriented”, and partially there might be something like that in the army but there’s some things that are done really well in the army.

Here’s some of the things I was really impressed about:

  • Responsibility: there was always somebody who “called the shots”. Maybe in workplaces we don’t need to have privates and sergeants and badges, but it’s a good thing if somebody in the team actually has the responsibility to “keep the order” (so to speak) and maybe even have final word on things. I think this type of order and structure was helpful in the army: everybody knew who was responsible and no time was wasted arguing over something useless.
  • Order: occasionally, some people came late to a lecture and the captain was standing there (actually, this might be a military secret of the Finnish army and I think I was said that I cannot share anything that happens in the army, but let’s hope nobody finds out about this blog post, okay?). Anyway, the captain was there waiting patiently (with a strict look in his face) for the latecomers to arrive. After that, the lecture was 10 minutes late and he gave a 2 minute speech about how this cannot happen again or we’ll start training this arrival on time (meaning: from now on, people would come like 1 hour before the actual event if things don’t change). After that, he went on with the lecture.

    I thought this was amazing. Previously, I had seen people coming late to their workplaces (or school) and (1) coming up with all sorts of excuses, (2) driving recklessly when they were late, (3) trying to do too many things (like eat breakfast, make the bed, brush teeth, and shave – while driving) in order to “not to be too late”. Then some boss/teacher either (1) did nothing, (2) tried to mumble something or (3) was one of the latecomer. This captain was just standing there and waiting for people to find their seats in order. No fuss, no stupidities. Strict order. Then he said what would happen if things won’t change (and he sure would have ordered that). I liked that approach.

  • Delegating: when you get an assignment in the army, your superior will tell you what you need to do and then you repeat the task to confirm you’ve got it. That’s a pretty simple thing: (1) first somebody gives you a task, and (2) then you confirm that you got the message. Simple.

    I wonder why there’s probably tons of producers (including the guy who is writing this blog post) who don’t handle this properly always when needed. Some producers actually don’t do either step (telling what to do nor asking people if they know what they need to do), yet they keep wondering why project isn’t going well.

I’m not necessarily a big army fan (pretty neutral attitude towards the army maybe), but I think they’ve done some things pretty well. So well that it’s worth learning from.

7 thoughts on “Military Training (And What We Can Learn From It)

  1. @Ian: thanks for sharing

    @Eli: :)

    @Lumooja: “especially when dealing with Swedes” :D

    @Anthony: Six years? Auch…

    @Anonymous: Let’s not get into that route…

    @Robert: I mostly learned to act like a robot (it was kind of fun too when you over-did it… ;)

  2. I was in the Army (about 16 years ago), and yeah I learned a lot about self discipline. I don’t think companies need to run in a military fashion. But I do feel that a lot of people can learn a lot from being in the military. I believe it gives people better work ethics.

  3. If humanity could get rid of ARMY & RELIGION the world would be such a better place to live.

  4. Meh, I suppose I have mixed feelings about the military’s structure after spending the last 6 years as a slave to it. On one hand, you have the ) (moderate) assurance that if you tell someone to get something done, they’re probably going to do it. There is, however, (at least in the US Army) a resounding lack of initiative in a system like this. It seems like everyone lacks autonomy. People have to be micro-managed, otherwise they’ll sit idle. It’s like playing an RTS in which you not only have to tell your units to go over there and attack the enemy, you have to tell them how to get there, what to bring (and then make sure they bring it), how quickly to move, and then cover pretty much every possible change in plan along the way (which is, of course, impossible). Perhaps the worst aspect is the leaders that become accustomed to this. They monopolize valuable time with over-planning, and hold no value to improvisation. Some become frustrated with Soldiers that take initiative–usually because if you accomplish the mission early, they have nothing for you to do. Then you’re sitting around waiting for someone to decide if they’re going to make a decision.

  5. Yeah, in the big company I work, I wish there was an army infrastructure.
    It would make things so much easier and save the company a lot of money.
    Especially when dealing with Swedes, there is always a never ending discussion and nobody can just say that stop talking and do it.
    Even when there is no army infrastructure in the company, the consequences are still the same: You have to follow other people’s decisions. The bad thing is that you can not clearly accuse them when they make the wrong decisions, but it gets just fogged and forgotten. In a clear army infrastructre the people who made wrong decisions would be put under internal investigation to make sure that mistake does not happen again, and that it gets corrected also.

  6. Both of my parents were survival instructors in the Air Force – so for me a huge subcategory of responsibility has been and always will be self-reliance – which translates well in to a few concepts. For one, you cannot ever assume the work will get done. Take action first. Secondly the drive for independence should filter into the drive to work at your passion. There are many other interesting facets but I’m short on time right now.

    Oh and sorry for the silence for so long!
    3

  7. A good related read is the USMC book Warfighting, it covers the leadership points and also–IMHO–has some ideas that will resonate with indie game producers (although hopefully the games industry isn’t _quite_ as competitive as a real war!).

    It’s freely available at http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/service_pubs/mcdp1.pdf