USS Missouri

Battleship vs Speedboat

In my years of business leadership I have heard the saying that an organization has grown up from a speedboat to a battleship and it is much harder to make changes quickly and to adapt to new threats.

When I think about a battleship in business it is a much larger organization, takes a lot of energy and effort to change direction. Orders are generated from the com tower and then passed down to subordinate leaders that continue to pass it down to the men and women that execute the tactics. When the desired direction is established it has a ton of firepower to put on target to accomplish its mission.

Then to look at a speedboat as a smaller organization, they can change direction very quickly and adapt to new opportunities and technologies and they have the ability to solve problems faster.

A speedboat doesn’t have as much firepower to put on target but it can get there first and make a splash. Most times communication can happen instantly by walking down the hall or the President can directly talk to the entire sales or engineering team within minutes to make rapid changes to accomplish the mission quickly.

So how do you make battleship more like a speedboat? How do you, as you scale your business up, make sure that your organization can maneuver and react as fast as a speedboat but are able to deploy maximum firepower once in the right direction?

Thinking back to one of my hobbies, paintball, and when I joined the 82nd Airborne Paintball Team at Oklahoma DDay in 2007 we had a total of 6 radios, across 250 players. Our strategy was commonly referred to as herding cats. The entire 250 players had a single objective and we just hoped everyone moved on to that objective regrouped around it and then moved on again.

Fast forward to Oklahoma DDay 2015 we had a total of 108 radios across 150 players. Our strategy was quite different and had many moving parts. We were able to execute plans down to groups of 10 to 20 players quickly and effectively. If we needed to take that 150 person unit and go in 5 completely different directions I could communicate out to my 5 key leaders and they would communicate down and within 30 seconds 150 players would be executing a completely new and different complex operation.

The key to this success is that the top leader has instant communication to the entire organization and the vision and direction is effectively passed down so that it can be executed quickly.

One of my favorite stories aka AAR’s (After Action Reports) came when our large unit was assigned multiple complex missions to attack multiple objectives, some not even close to each other.

The day before the big game which always takes place on a Saturday we had plans drawn up that our 150 man unit would remain intact and be assaulting a single, very critical, objective. We knew this objective would be very well defended but with the force we were bringing we were confident we could accomplish it swiftly and effectively.

Two hours before game on my Commander came to me and informed me that 30 of my troops had to be reassigned to a special mission to capture a building and hold out as long as possible. This mission was not even close to our primary objective and I knew linking back up with the unit later would be difficult.

Making adjustments with my top leaders on field and figuring out how to compensate for this reduction in man power to take our primary objective with 30 less troops happened quickly. We rallied within minutes and were able to create a new plan a few minutes later and were hopeful we could take our primary objective.

20 minutes before game on a radio transmission from our off field HQ requested that they needed another 30 of my troops to accomplish another special mission to capture a bridge that in a way would help us achieve our primary mission. Another quick leaders meeting that lasted all of 5 minutes resulted in another quick modification to the battle plans. The 30 players moved out and the remaining force were set on accomplishing our primary mission with 60% of our primary force.

The short story here is both 30 man units accomplished there missions and linked back up with us later and though our primary objective was well defended we were able to modify our plans to effectively accomplish this mission with fewer troops.

So I believe that large organizations can be as nimble as a speedboat, adjust to rapid changes as they arise quickly, so long as the top leaders have instant communication access to all areas of their organization.