Volume 3 / Issue 2 / Winter 2016 Military Operations TJOMO.com
Regardless of how they may be structured, at the outset, all the
headquarters I’ve helped to train suffered from a condition known
as “staff silos”, or “cylinders of excellence”. Simply put, this is the
tendency for staff branches and cells to have relatively little knowledge
of, (or concern for) what is going on in the rest of the headquarters.
Typically, given proper training and good leadership, a staff
branch can become competent in its own discipline in a reasonably
short time. The bigger challenge is to create a pan-headquarters
environment in which staff officers both understand that they need to
interact regularly with other parts of the headquarters, and then truly
act on that understanding. This problem can be extended beyond the
walls of the headquarters to include a generally weak appreciation
of the value of good working relationships with higher, lower and
flanking headquarters. The attitude of “it’s all about us” is sometimes
quite prevalent. In the very big and complex headquarters common
today, this condition can be endemic. It will manifest itself in ways
such as supporting annexes which have clearly been developed
either in isolation from the main plan, or from other staff branches.
Overcoming this third condition can be a happy by-product of
dealing with the first two issues, but it won’t happen magically. Every
headquarters whose training I have been involved with has struggled
with this problem. Some have overcome it fairly early in the training
cycle, while others have still been wrestling with it on their final
operational readiness exercise. None overcame it without human
effort and leadership. Only an effective regime of training, led by
the Chief of Staff and his branch heads, can break the cylinders and
smash the silos.
The fundamental and progressive training I recommended as the
solution to the first condition above is the most important remedy
here. If the time is taken to do that training properly-and by
“properly” I mean making sure that people are actually learning
useful things, not just checking off boxes and making slides-I believe
the staff’s awareness and understanding of what goes on outside
their own little “bazaar” will grow exponentially. A well-thought
out information management plan, driven by the Chief of Staff and
understood by the staff team, will only make things better.
Making Them Better
I’ve highlighted three well known problems inherent in our formation
headquarters; all of them, in my view, badly aggravated by the
tendency in Western countries towards headquarters’ structures
which are too big, too complicated, often over-ranked and too
ponderously sclerotic to be really useful. We don’t train them very
well, they can’t really manage information properly, and they are
Ideally (in my mind) we could “solve” it all by taking a draconian
approach to the size and complexity of headquarters, and just slash
them down to size. Alas, I fear that measure will require levels of
determination and focus which often seem to escape some military
institutions these days. There always seems to be another just one
more “functionality” or another brand new “capability coordination
centre” which simply
to be added to the structure. That, I think,
is a separate fight for each nation’s military to resolve. A smaller,
productively hard-working team who know each other well is the
goal, but I’m not sure we will get there.
So, if we can’t immediately make these monstrous headquarters
smaller, can we at least try to make them better? I believe we can.
I’ve tried to put forth the idea that making these headquarters
“better” relies on the same thing that most important aspects of
military success have always relied upon: determined human beings
effectively applying common sense and experience. Training which
accounts for human factors and which follows well-known military
principles will go far toward mitigating all three of these problems.
I’ve also illuminated the sad but all too common tendency to minimize
or skip over these simple solutions, based on false premises.
At this point, doubtless some readers will say “really…is that it? I
knew that already!” I would have to agree, but I would have to add
that to know something is not quite the same thing as putting it into
practice, and sticking with it until you achieve the result you need,
which in this case would be headquarters contributing to operational
success against increasingly agile and flexible enemies.
David Banks is employed as a civilian contractor at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre. He works as a team leader in the design
development and delivery of synthetic exercises for Army, Joint and Other Government Department requirements. David retired from the Army
in 2012 as an Infantry officer with 38 years of service.
Making The Big Headquarters Better