Merging Command and Control with Expand and Extol: Coming to grips with social media in the military

In his book, Social Networking for Business, Rawn Shah discusses different leadership styles, ownership styles and aggregation styles. The discussions resonate with me as I work to bring new social computing tools to my military client.

Many people think that the introduction of new tools necessitates totally new social structures. That if the old way was a centralized, command and control, hierarchical management style, it would be necessary to transform into something different: flexible, self-organized, and flat-structured or informal. I doubt it. I can’t imagine how it makes any sense to overturn a milenia’s old military structure that efficiently mobilizes the activities of thousands of moving parts to meet readiness requirements and threats. So what’s the point of introducing social media?

I think Rawn explains a bit in his developerWorks blog. He differentiates the who and the how. The effective deployment of the emerging tools requires us to consider the culture into which we deploy. We need to understand the current norms and customs, understand the strengths. As we move forward, we need to put into balance new ways of working that enhance these norms, customs and strengths.

I think part of the problem comes from looking at the structure rather than the process. I suggest there may be completely different processes for generating ideas (collaboration) versus communicating policies and directives (command). I think that adding the notions of expand (inviting others to participate in many discussions) and extol (recognizing participation and promoting good ideas and behaviors) provide a great compliment to the future of the military.

That we could get situational awareness from the furthest reaches of the organization to any point in the network and having people tuned in to this network activity could significantly improve the nimbleness. In no way, does this obviate the need to leverage the existing and persistent leadership models. In fact, it makes them more responsive as more current facts can be brought to bear without having to exercise a march down and up various command structures. Ideas and facts can flow in any direction, while policies and directives will still flow down through the echelons.

Of the attributes of the control nature —reactive, top-down, formal— is any wrong? No. But the emergent nature provides useful complements —active, collaborative or networked, fluid. I think the future is bright for the deployment of collaboration communities and social media tools in the military, especially as we ask the forces and their civilian colleagues to do more with less and to work in more and more joint missions.


One thought on “Merging Command and Control with Expand and Extol: Coming to grips with social media in the military

  1. Thanks Dennis,

    Also relevant is to consider that these new structures does not necessitate a complete replacement of the existing organizational structure. Rather, they can be applied to collect, analyze, or work on specific projects, activities or tactical issues as needed. The scope of how wide you apply it depends very much on what you are trying to accomplish.


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