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Volume 3 / Issue 2 / Winter 2016 Military Operations

Page 9

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

internally fragmented.

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

David Banks