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Survival of the fittest: ‘Executive Warfare Centre’ insights for challenging times.

In recent times some lessons from the military have become especially relevant to business teams in the face of ongoing disruption.

Rapid change driven by pandemics, unstable markets and trade wars is demanding more of business leaders and teams. These disruptive forces cannot be allowed to defeat you, rather they must be understood and even harnessed to benefit you long-term.

The phrase 'Survival of the fittest' has a brutal ring to it, but sadly in times of massive disruption and uncertainty, it can be the sobering reality for businesses.

Husbanding any existing adaptability and agility within your leaders and teams, and having the 'fittest' teams in terms of their ability to cope with rapid change, can contribute to your survivability as an organisation.

The Executive Warfare Centre is an approach of ours that has evolved since the 1980’s to blend military tools with evidence-based behavioural profiles and targeted experiential workshops. Sabre has used selected military thinking and approaches successfully with a wide range of business clients.

One of several useful concepts that we draw upon is that of Manoeuvre Warfare.

This concept in tandem with others provides fertile ground for ‘war gaming’ how to handle any major challenge at individual and also team level.

Modern Military commanders embrace Manoeuvre Warfare as an approach to thinking about the conduct of war, as opposed to any specific set of rigid or proscribed tactics. It is all about working smarter and capitalising on challenges and uncertainty rather than enabling them to cripple you.

Warfare like business is a competitive and chaotic arena and Manoeuvre is all about learning to embrace the chaos, to manage a challenge, or how best to focus when targeting an opponent.

If targeting an adversary the emphasis is to cleverly target weakness, their plans or their ability to make good decisions rather than trying to bluntly overpower with costly attrition.

Three Levels

There are three major levels upon which warfare takes place and they are familiar to both military and business commanders.

1. The Physical – Weapons, technology, troops, logistics, terrain.

2. The Psychological – Leadership, teamwork, morale, courage.

3. The Analytical (and The Creative) – Ability to assess complex options, make superior decisions and execute them well (by applying both levels 1 and 2 creatively).

Four Factors

The following four factors that can shape warfare are also particularly relevant at present to business commanders amidst increasing complexity and disruption.

1. Friction – The common phenomenon that makes the simple difficult and the difficult seem impossible. Can be by external factors such as enemy, weather or internal factors such as politics, ego, poor communications, cognitive bias or poor decision making.

2. Uncertainty - Never being in possession of complete knowledge of a situation or an opponent’s intentions, and myriad other external factors brings the “fog of war” and clouds good decision making.

3. Fluidity – Such a rapid pace of unfolding events and changes that the events of past, present and future start to merge into one another and form a fluctuating flow of events with few real gaps for sequential decision making.

4. Disorder – The combined impact of the above three factors invariably brings disorder where the competitive situation deteriorates into chaos, common mistakes, plans going awry, failed communications and misinterpretations of orders.

At the heart of Manoeuvre Warfare sits the desire to take these factors that you can rarely control yourself, and instead of letting them overwhelm you, using the right people and systems to help in dealing with them.

Selecting and enabling the right people to act in the midst of unfolding challenges is key to minimising impacts from those 4 factors.

Effective leadership and teamwork are critical attributes to underpin survivability when dovetailed with 3 key points:

1. Be honest about your own collective strengths and weaknesses.

2. Honestly appreciate the challenges at hand and how to maximise your strengths and minimise the impact of any biases and weaknesses.

3. Match the right people / forces to the right tasks.

The military equips its Officers with a range of tools to help deal with complexity and to make optimal decisions in less than optimal circumstances.

It also embraces a concept called ‘Mission Command’ to push the power down whenever possible and thus enabling even the most junior leaders to exploit opportunities as external factors unfold.

The concept of Manoeuvre Warfare would be familiar to historical commanders such as Sun Tzu or to Napoleon and is being adopted as modern military doctrine. It can enable great results to be achieved with the least possible effort in increasingly complex and uncertain situations.

It is also worth taking into consideration how insights from current neuroscience can inform us how uncertainty impacts decision-making.

The present climate of uncertainty triggers emotional responses from the more primitive limbic system of the brain.

A rather alarmist news cycle seems to prevail and continue to spook reactions in many fields, including global markets. Tools to help leaders and teams avoid this more primitive, yet powerful system of the brain running the show are essential.

Left unchecked, emotionally fuelled inputs can bring much bias into individual and ultimately collective decision-making.

Knowing and mapping the behaviours and biases that exist within a team helps to identify practical tools for minimising their impact when the pressure is on. Evidence-based diagnostic tools such as Belbin can help in this regard.

Military command decision-making tools are also useful for helping to counter such biases with systems and approaches to remove emotion and bias from decision-making. Not every aspect of a military approach may transfer to business, but some of the best and simplest ones do.

In challenging times the commercial world can learn from how the military trains and prepares its people for uncertainty and disruption.

Sabre’s Executive Warfare Centre

Our Executive Warfare Centre approach enables teams to measure their strengths and weaknesses, better understand them and project strength towards dealing with and surviving disruption.

These sessions are far from simplistic physical ‘boot camp’ style experiences. Each programme features carefully cherry-picked insights and tools from the military that are matched to client aims. Behavioural profiles, workshops and sophisticated experiential learning then enable rapid uptake and linking of lessons to real world performance.

In-depth Belbin individual, team and relationship reports provide the evidence-based insights into what strengths and weaknesses are at play within a team, particularly when it is under pressure.

Sabre has been transferring military insight, lessons and approaches to business clients since 1988. The military is a rich source of lessons for business and looking through the lens of military experience can prove highly useful. Whilst not everything from the military can literally be applied to business, there are some clear and powerful lessons and insights for business leaders and teams.

Our Executive Warfare Centre approach enables teams to measure their strengths and weaknesses, better understand them and then project their strengths towards surviving disruption.

To find out more visit this section of the Sabre website, call us on 1300 731 381 or email


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