4 Lessons in Business Agility I Learned in the U.S. Air Force Boot Camp

Apr 8, 2016
7 Min Read
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4 Lessons in Business Agility I Learned in the U.S. Air Force Boot CampBusiness agility, or the ability to redirect or respond to change quickly, can mean life or death of an operation. Here are a few suggestions to keep your company or department agile and ready to accept change, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Military basic training consists of learning something new and repeating it beyond the point of getting it right: You train until you can’t get it wrong. In business agility, you don’t have the luxury of repetition or even going about business as usual. But some of the none-too-gentle lessons I learned from my Air Force basic training can absolutely be applied to an agile business strategy.

Here’s how:

Be open to new ideas, but don’t forget the fundamentals.

An agile business, like a new recruit, will be in a state of reinvention and have daily reasons to question its direction. Maintaining efficiency and demanding a regular challenge to established processes to avoid creating “sacred cows” will keep your corporate structure lean and agile.

But when you and your business are looking to reinvent and redevelop, you should never miss a chance to strengthen the fundamentals of success in your business, including education, innovation, and/or building trust.

As in boot camp, it takes hard work and determination. But in both cases, the result is a team that can respond to crises, as well as everyday concerns, with fluidity.

Share information.

You can get lonely in basic training, which is ironic because you are surrounded by men and women experiencing the same trials you are. Their experience isn’t identical to yours, but each new challenge is shared by the people you’re rubbing shoulders with. And sharing concerns, challenges, and solutions is critical to success.

In order for a business to be successfully agile, interdepartmental relationships and lines of communication have to be strengthened. As the business becomes more efficient, there is a very good chance that errors could be made in haste. While haste is useful to a business looking to capitalize on something new quickly, without strong institutional lines of communication, there’s a greater risk of missing some important input from stakeholders.

This is the time to connect or reconnect with staff and reassure them that this is still the same company where they’ve made their home. Only now, they are an integral part of whatever happens next.

Rely on your team or build a new one.

In basic training, some members simply don’t make the cut. It was then incumbent upon management--in this case, the military--to decide to further train the recruit or ship them back home.

Like any truly agile company, leadership must regularly take inventory of the abilities that team has and decide if they’re going to be up to the challenges ahead. Sometimes you need to readjust team members, reallocate a resource in order to maintain the most effective unit cohesion. Sometimes you have to break the team down and start from scratch.

Going forward, you’ll build a more agile and more capable team. It’s costly, but not as expensive as operating with a dysfunctional team solely in the name of time spent. The team, as their leader, will be better prepared for the changes and for the unexpected once your underperforming team members have been managed or moved on.

Accept challenges.

In basic, my imagination, work ethic, commitment, even my sense of humor: all were challenged. These challenges helped me push beyond what I thought I was capable of and made me reach for goals that I imagined were unattainable.

Keeping your business agile means exploring new ideas, markets, and possibilities. The challenges of becoming and sustaining agility aren't small.  When an organization is agile enough to accept and embrace new ideas or products quickly, they can be seen as lacking any serious or reliable commitment to whatever market they're breaking into and may not be taken seriously. There's also the risk of running your team into the ground with change fatigue.

But the rewards could be a new paradigm, a new market, a new product or even a new organization-wide message and direction. Agility offers the ability to advance the organization and explore new potential for growth.

Business agility means streamlining, self examination, and risk. But if you’re committed, a new stability and unprecedented success wait further up the road. Take a page from the lessons learned in the crucible of basic training: Strengthen and develop resources that already exist in an effort to be more capable and ready for the unexpected that's absolutely expected to come.

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