The Case for the Front Line Leader Program (FLLP)

Every organization, regardless of its size, structure or purpose, is dependent upon small work groups, at the frontline. The majority of the actual work tasks, which define any organization’s mission, are accomplished by people working in this bottom tier of the group. These individuals serve as the customer-interface level, and function as the “Revenue Crew” for every organization. These Revenue Crews are the producers who support the rest of the organization. This group is composed of the “Grounders” (the ones who do the actual physical work), and their immediate supervisors – the Front Line Leaders (FLLs). This combination of Grounders and FLLs makes up 80-85 % of all employees of any organization. Thus, as they represent most of the organization, the effectiveness of it depends upon how those small work groups function.

Leader and Crew

The output of a work unit, of any size, is contingent upon many variables. While the work context and content matter a great deal, the predominant factor is the effectiveness of the internal group processes by which the work unit members collaborate, cooperate, and coordinate its activities between members who comprise that work unit and the interactions which that unit has with other groups, both internal and external to their sponsoring organization.

The achievement of success with work group processes is a function of the competency of their direct leader.  Every leader must continually balance the external demands made upon himself and his group, while managing all the internal work unit dynamics necessary to maintain group operations. Maintaining the right balance is critical to work unit productivity. In direct leadership, there is no place to hide from those being directed and no escape from the consequences of one’s choices. The burden of taking responsibility for outcomes as the leader is clear and unambiguous.

All leaders are the direct supervisors for some group of people.  These groups occur at each level of any hierarchical organization with multiple levels. These groups can vary in size and have many different roles for their organization. The critical special case group of direct leaders is found at the bottom of any organization chart.  This is the realm of the Revenue Crew. These crews are always led by a Front Line Leader. This is a particularly important role, as it coordinates the majority of the work activity related to an organization’s reason for being.

An excellent laboratory for the study of direct leaders is the US Army.  All units, at all levels, are based around small workgroups, which continually experience turnover in both leaders and members. Their small group leaders are required to achieve the right balance between internal and external demands, to achieve a balance between taking care of their personnel while still accomplishing their assigned missions, and to have a skill set which is balanced between technical and social fields. Consequently, the Army has developed a structured process, proven through decades of use under a wide range of conditions and contexts, which is effective in generating capable direct front line leaders.

The small unit direct leader in the military must maintain a stable capability for mission performance, while periodically experiencing losses and gains of group members. Throughout the turmoil of this transitioning, they are called upon to instill the necessary discipline and provide sufficient training and rehearsal in critical task execution, so that their members can automatically perform those critical tasks while under high stress. This later requirement stemmed from the recognition that there is no allowance under combat conditions for people to “get up to speed” with task performance. They need to be capable of executing mission critical tasks with precision, and not have to “think” about their execution. The difference between life and death can be a matter of seconds in some situations, so leaders and their grounders need to have the confidence that they can successfully perform their missions in critical situations to be able to fight and win.

Yet, the military does not want to “robotize” their group members, so that everything is done unthinkingly. Their Front Line Leaders (FLLs), and those whom they lead, must also be capable of independent action. This means they must have the confidence and competence to demonstrate initiative and independence of action. This ability for autonomous action is essential to function under unique or novel situations. Since no two situations will ever be identical, and the local and particular conditions on any situation must be addressed for successful mission accomplishment, FLLs and their Grounders are expected to assess the situation and respond appropriately, as their see fit under the circumstances and constraints at hand. This places a substantial burden of responsibility upon the FLLs, as their people expect them to act with intelligence to complete the mission, while acting to do their best to take care of the Grounders as they engage in the mission.


Since the 1950’s, at the start of the Cold War, the US Military has been deeply engaged in studies of methods to improve both the productivity and effectiveness of units and organizations. Due to the imbalance of forces vis-à-vis the Soviets, it was obvious that US / NATO force combinations would have to fight and win while outnumbered. Consequently, more than 2,500 sociological and other scientific studies were conducted during the 1950’s to explore ways to upgrade the functions of military teams, crews, and units. With the Soviet Bloc looming as the primary threat, many of these studies included examination of the performance of Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht against the Soviets on the Eastern Front during World War II.  The majority of studies in this category of investigation focused primarily upon command, organization, and management of larger force-upon-force operations. However, there were a few studies which included a critical examination of the training and preparation of individuals and small combat units. It was obvious that the Wehrmacht was capable of fighting effective small unit actions right up to the end of combat in Europe, despite degradation of reinforcements, equipment shortages, and being swamped with raw and untrained recruits. It was noted, particularly on the Eastern Front, where they were vastly outnumbered, small Wehrmacht combat battle groups fought vicious and effective engagements with the Red Army, inflicting substantial casualties, despite being in retreat and constantly on the defensive.

The military human factors research during this period built upon the basic work on individual capabilities research. This type of research was started by the US Army during the massive mobilization for World War I (when IQ testing started).  At that time the impetus was to facilitate the rapid expansion of the US military forces. The goal was to avoid the fiasco of mobilization which had marred the effort during the Spanish-American War. This work was slowly built upon between the two world wars. With the national mobilization following Pearl Harbor, substantial social science work and studies of various human factors such as unit cohesion and sustainability were conducted during World War II. The purpose of this work was to identify what individual capabilities could be identified and selected for when mobilizing manpower. This included determining how to best fit recruits within the military occupational specialties, as well as identification of  methods to facilitate the manning and training of the vast force mobilized. It was clearly understood that although technology had brought a substantial change to military combat engagements, the essential element of the soldier remained supreme in determining outcomes. The human factors individual-focused research which was the basis for so much research during the 1950’s, was based upon connections made with academics and scientist through Operations Research work initiated in total national resource mobilization during World War II.

As a part of the ongoing effort to field a better prepared military force, the US Army enlisted the community of scientists and academics through basic research grants in the 1950’s, to foster a more intelligent approach to the procurement, training and deployment of battle-ready combat units. Their work began with the development and implementation of mental intelligence and skills testing for entry level individuals. The purpose was to use the results to make more appropriate assignments for individuals, to allow the larger force to better utilize their available manpower. The basic knowledge was established in World War I and then further extended by the enormous expansion of the US military in World War II. During this later effort, the focus continued to be directed primarily toward testing and selection of individuals on the basis of their mental capabilities and skills. The intent was to facilitate personnel placement and training to optimize the allocation of manpower resources.  One of the primary evaluation factors still utilized by all the military services is the skills test.

The results of these three eras (WWI, WWII, and Cold War) of military-backed research studies, and the accumulated knowledge and insight obtained through the actual implementation of programs, fostered improvements in basic training for new entrants, and modified training cycles for units, up to the Viet Nam War era. Then, much of this basic work was shelved, and further research was constrained due to three related, but very different reasons.

The first reason that basic research diminished was that the Viet Nam War was decidedly different than the other big wars of the 20th Century. It was not comprised of large, set-piece battles of force against force in pitched battles. Rather, it was a much different type of war. The type of requirements stemmed from jungle warfare against guerillas and consisted mainly of small unit engagements. This substantially altered the demands placed upon the military during the 1960s and early 1970s. Second, fallout from the Viet Nam era protests, which had been led by students and academics on college campuses, diminished the willingness of university researchers to engage in basic government-funded studies, which either were paid by or seen to be, in support of the military. Third, after the termination of US involvement in Viet Nam, funding for the military was reduced substantially, eliminating the resources which had been used to fund basic university research.

The situation changed again in the late 1970s, when once again the Soviet threat in Europe loomed large.  With the arrival of President Reagan in 1980, there was a clear national strategic focus on preparing to fight the Soviets in Europe. This brought in a new era of expansion for the military, with increased funding. There also was a renewed interest in upgrading the performance of military units. This time it was driven by the recognition that there had been significant deterioration in capabilities of personnel during the late 1970’s. This deterioration was a consequence of the post-war reduction in force after the termination of action in the Viet Nam War.  Again, it was clear that since the balance of power (numbers of personnel and weapon systems) rested with the Soviet Bloc, the mission of the US/NATO forces was to be prepared to fight while outnumbered and win, starting without much warning or time to prepare.


Renewed Research Basis:

The Post Viet-Nam War emphasis on a change at the national strategy level, commencing in 1980, fostered a substantial research effort. More than 1,000 studies were conducted on work groups, crews, and teams by 1986. Toward the later part of the decade, the military research into small unit operations was extended into a completely new but related (from a sociological perspective) direction. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and numerous individual airlines had also begun funding a large number of studies into the functioning of small work groups. These aviation-related studies grew out of concern from a series of catastrophic air crashes, which the National Transportation Safety Board investigators attributed to poorly functioning flight crews. The objective in these aviation studies was to enhance the safety of air travel through upgrading the performance of aircraft flight crews, particularly under the time pressure of stress situations which occur during in-flight emergencies. This body of research work in the 1980s resulted in a substantial advancement of the understanding of dynamics of small work groups.

Out of this vast body of research, three very important research studies emerged as most significant in understanding work group effectiveness. These studies generated surprising results, with significant implications for unit/crew/team functioning. The three studies were released in 1981, 1988, and 1991. They pointed to a key leverage point for improving small group performance. Each of these studies were conducted at different times, by different groups, with significantly different investigation methods and orientation. Obviously, this generated substantial dis-similarities between them. However, despite their differences, this series of studies did have four elements in common. It was the significance of the commonalities which set them apart from the hundreds of other studies conducted during this period. The value of those common features led to their selection for a more detailed evaluation of their research methods and results.

First, each of these studies was focused on evaluating the “productivity” of the basic combat element. This was a focus upon the small units/crews/teams around which the military organizes its tactical fight. This represented a small 3-5 man group with a front line leader assigned to direct the group operations. Second, the objective of all three studies was to focus on discovering how these unit/crew/teams could be made more effective. The goal was to identify how the “enhancement” of the individual member, either through selection or training, could generate this improved performance. The premise for all three studies was a belief that through the enhancement of each member of a crew, the overall performance of the group would increase. The third common element was that the results of all three studies, unexpectedly, were the same. What made this third aspect even more surprising was that it was an unexpected conclusion different from what both the researchers and sponsors had anticipated would be identified as an essential element of crew functioning.

The final factor ties these studies together in yet another unexpected and unintentional way.  In the selection of what type of small work groups would be evaluated by the study, each of these three studies included tanks crews as a primary small work group upon which they focused their research. This turns out to be a critical aspect. During World War II it became clear that tanks were a fundamental building block of ground combat power.  There were numerous experiments during the war with new tanks rushed into production, using crews of 3, 4 or 5. Combat action demonstrated the optimal size was 4, each with a different role. Despite huge advancements in the technology associated with all aspects of armored warfare during the war (by all combatants) and in the decades which followed, the basis of tank crews remained unaltered. From the perspective of both NATO bloc and Soviet bloc countries and their modern tank development, the size of tank crews was held constant at 4 members. This remained consistent, despite enormous advancements in the size, capabilities. and technology of these powerful weapon systems.

While each of the three critical manpower studies took different paths, examined different factors, and sought to obtain far different research results from the others, they maintained the common elements noted above. As a result, conducting a comparison of these studies with each other provided some unexpected insights. One of these was the ability to use the spacing of the studies, representing over a decade of research data, by linking them together, rather than viewing them as separate and independent studies. Because of their common features, mentioned above, they each can be seen as providing extensions of the work of the previous study. This allows one to view these 3 very different studies as representing one single longitudinal study of a particular type of small work groups and their leaders, over a decade, under differing conditions.

It is important to reiterate the significance of the selection of the work groups upon which the research was based. Each study either focused on or included tank crews as the specific small groups which were examined. These crews consist of 4 people operating collectively as a crew, and individually as crew members, within the confines of a single tank. These are: driver, loader, gunner, and tank commander. Tanks crews, within all NATO member and Soviet Bloc armies, are of this same size and composition. This is a significant number, as identified through some other sociological research.  This type of unit is comprised of 4 members, each with very different roles. It is a special category of group, known as The Starkermann Group. It represents an optimal size for the highly effective functioning of a collective group of people. This has been corroborated through studies of fire crews where 4 man crews significantly out-performed combinations of 3 or 5 man crews.

Incontrovertible results have demonstrated – from extensive research and decades of actual experience – this to be the ideal group size for tank crews. The Starkermann group has also proven to be the most effective arrangement of people for conjunctive task accomplishment, as well as for group problem solving.  For tank crews specifically, this was unintentionally proven, through efforts by smaller nations to reduce their tanks (and with that, crew size), to attempt to preserve firepower and combat capabilities, while conserving manpower and expenditures of defense spending.  Efforts by Israel and Sweden, throughout the 1970s and 1980s -to reduce military manpower requirements – fielded tanks comprised of 3 man crews. This was accomplished in both nations by the elimination of the position of loader through installation of an automatic gun loading mechanism. Operational results demonstrated that these tanks were never, even with top-line crews, able to achieve the levels of effectiveness of the 4 man tank crew. They eventually accepted these suboptimal operational performance results as being real and unalterable, and reverted back to 4 man crews for their tanks. It appears that requiring the gunner to both lay the gun and maintain the tube on the target, while simultaneously keying the auto-loader system for the appropriate type of round, overwhelmed the ability of one person. The optimal crew consisted of driver, loader, gunner, and tank commander.

Effective tank crew operation requires performance at several levels simultaneously. Successful groups must work well together, as a collective, while also being able to effectively perform their individual tasks. First, this necessitates maintaining a dynamic blending of technical and social skills within the group by the tank commander, to achieve an aggregate crew performance that meets standards. Next each crew member must be capable of executing their assigned individual tasks, as well as understanding how they impact upon or contribute to the completion of the tasks of the other crew members. Finally, the group must synchronize their actions with the others to optimize the performance of the collective crew tasks.  To survive in a combat situation, a tank crew must maneuver, acquire, engage, and destroy enemy vehicles, while avoiding being acquired and destroyed by the enemy. This requires both automatic performance of trained individual tasks, rapid adaptation and adjustment to the local and particular conditions of their specific engagement under heavy stress and pressure, and correct problem solving in dynamic situations of high ambiguity. It requires crew members to automatically, without question or hesitation, respond to orders of the commander, who is responsible for the overall coordination. Yet, they must also maintain the ability for independent action, and the confidence to speak out when they identify discrepant information that undermines the direct order. The challenge for the tank commander is that he must monitor internal crew performance, weapon system functioning, the developing enemy situation, and affect coordination and cooperation with other tanks in their assigned unit, of which they are a part. He encourages confidence in his crew for their individual and collective competence, so they know what they are capable of, while maintaining an environment that fosters psychological safety which permits individuals to voice dissent or objections without threatening the authority and power of the commander or undermining the cohesion of the crew. All these requirements place a premium upon the ability of each member to effectively communicate, negotiate and resolve differences rapidly. The pressure is on the commander to manage crew communications, within the crew (inside his tank), and externally, with other tanks and higher commanders.

Yet, while the crew members must work together cooperatively, they too must maintain their individual roles. Each individual must retain his capability to make independent choices and act with autonomy, when the situation necessitates it, or to communicate quickly, clearly and completely with the tank commander, when they have a divergent view. The Tank Commander must know when he can engage the crew, encourage their participation, and negotiate a decision, and when he must just say: ”make it so”.  The successful execution, by each crew member, of the duties assigned to his role on the crew is necessary, but by itself is insufficient to assure success in outcome under the rapidly evolving and highly dynamic conditions of combat.

The tank crew works together as a group, with each member coordinating his task execution with the other members of the crew. Thus, if they have not practiced and rehearsed together, come to trust each other, and are able to quickly, clearly and concisely communicate with each other, they will be unable to perform their tasks fast enough to survive on a lethal battlefield.  To ensure the smooth performance of the group as a unit, the conjunctive tasks which involve more than one crew member, must also be performed well. Additionally, each member must operate the various technical aspects of the equipment system which houses them together (the tank itself). Finally, their tank commander must also coordinate the activities of his group with those other units which he is among, so that the larger, sponsoring unit (platoon, company, battalion) can also achieve its assigned mission.


Key Study Results:

The first study, completed in 1981, was sponsored by the US Army Recruiting Command. The objective was to determine how individual mental aptitude (as gauged by the AFQT entry skills testing program) could be used to better select, screen, and assign individual personnel. The idea was to build upon what had been learned during the two major force expansions (WWI and WWII), and then refined through extensive testing and utilization throughout the duration of the Viet Nam War. The goal was to prove that units could be improved by upgrading the performance of individuals assigned to their crews. Through the mental aptitude testing, and the attitudes they carried within them, individual recruits could be prepared so that they would upgrade their crews in the units to which they were assigned.

The assumption of military planners in 1981, based upon both WWII experience on the Eastern Front and the composition of the Soviet Bloc armies which faced NATO across the inter-German border, was that the opening battles in Europe would be predominantly heavy armor and artillery engagements. As a method to better prepare their tank units for the expected types of armor combat, NATO established an annual tank gunnery competition between the various NATO members. This program was structured as are sports competitions. Various teams, within divisions, would compete through a season, with the top teams entering into playoffs, leading to the selection of a competition based national champion. Through a series of annual qualifying rounds, the best crews of the top 5 NATO nations were identified to compete for a head-to-head tank crew shoot-off at the US Army Grafenwohr Range in Bavaria, Germany. The Canadian Trophy was awarded to the champion crew. Through the era of the Vietnam War, and the post-war struggles as the US Army sought to recover from the impacts, US Army tank crews were always “also-rans” in the competition, seldom achieving entry into the final competition. It appears that part of the rationale for the 1981 study was to find a way to elevate US Army tank crew performance so that they could be competitive, and restore prestige to the US Army.

The top scoring crews of five NATO member nations competed in a head-to-head, final round shoot-out, on the challenging US Army Europe (USAEUR) Grafenwohr tank firing range. The national teams were selected through an internal run-off, as units vied to put forth the best crews they could identify. The results of these competitions provided the basic data for the study. Additionally, the US Army was able to link AFQT scores (an individual competency test conducted for each entrant into the US Army prior to basic training) to all of its USAEUR tank crews, not just the Canadian Trophy shoot-off competition crews. This allowed for comparison of the full range of tank crews from the highest level (winners of the shoot out for competing as the US Army team vying for the Canadian Trophy) down through those who were unable to even participate in the preliminary internal unit competitions. Data from the US Army Armor Center, where new tank crew men were given their initial training, permitted the comparison of USAEUR crew performance with the results of simulations and training of entry level crews. Thus, there were comparisons between experienced crews as well as between experienced crews and inexperienced ones comprised of new trainees. The conclusions of this study will be addressed below, after a discussion of the other two studies.

The second study, conducted in 1988 at the request of the US Army, engaged several of its research facilities in participation with TRADOC (the US Army Training Command). This included: Natick Labs (which developed, tested, and evaluated individual soldier equipment), the Human Engineering Lab (which studied the operational performance impacts of human factors), and the Advanced Systems Project Office (which developed weapons systems such as tanks). The objective of this much larger study was to examine the performance implications of workload transitions on individuals and units/crews/teams. It was the belief that through optimal improvement of the functionality of equipment design, crews would be more effective in the performance of their individual tasks, thus, contributing to overall crew success.  Again, based upon the national strategic focus, the Soviets were viewed as the primary threat.  The belief was that since the Soviets had made starting combat operations unexpectedly a cornerstone of their tactical and operational methods, NATO and the US Army needed to be prepared for this occurrence. Since they had been surprised at the start of their combat with the German Wehrmacht in World War II, when Operation Barbarossa commenced in June 1941, the Soviet military had inculcated the operational power of staging surprise attacks. Thus, it was expected that any outbreak of hostilities in Europe would come very suddenly, not permitting NATO units much time to prepare for combat. This would compel the deployed combat units to make a quite abrupt transition from peacetime to combat operations.

The premise of this second study was that even well-trained units require some time and rehearsal (training together) for them to “spin up” to full operational capability.  This notion was supported by past experience and historical research. There is a “break in” period, as combat units re-familiarize themselves to their missions, crew, and systems, and make the necessary adjustments to deal with the stress and other aspects that characterize combat. There is also a necessary transition time as the various tank crew commanders learn to communicate with and coordinate movement with the other tanks assigned to their unit, support units, and higher commands Thus, a rapid transition from peacetime operations to full-scale combat, with its high workload demands, would mean degraded performance by NATO units during the critical initial stages of the expected battles. The goal of the 1988 study was to determine methods to improve individual stress coping skills, so that during the critical opening combat phase, US Army units could fight and win, even while outnumbered and under heavy combat conditions.  Again, the data collection focused primarily upon tank crews, tapping the same data sources as had been used in the previous (1981) study, but updating the data on the basis of the new entrants into the US Army since the initial study.

As this 1988 workload transition study got underway, the implications were recognized as having much broader reach than US Army combat units. The sudden and abrupt transition, from low volume work activity to high task demands under intense pressure, was recognized as a similar threat to organizational achievement faced by several other organizations and their operational units. The high stress generated by having to suddenly perform important activities under pressure always results in poor initial performance by work groups. It had long been recognized by researchers and investigators as a frequent cause of rather serious operational error. High stress and work load increases, after a period of inactivity, are compounded by this potential for mistakes, and the ensuing errors which can lead to diminished performance or even catastrophic failure. Consequently, a much larger group of organizations sought to join the study. The study expanded with participation by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research and their Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research and Development Lab, the US Navy Training Systems Center, the US Coast Guard, NASA and the FAA. To facilitate the coordination of this much larger group, the Committee on Human Factors, of the National Research Council, was assigned as overall research coordinator.  The conclusion of this study will be summarized after a brief examination of the third study.

The third critical study was conducted by the National Academy of Science in 1991. This study was initiated primarily at the request of the US Army. The objective of this study, with emphasis upon the human factors field, was an examination of how to enhance unit/crew/team effectiveness. Again, the premise of the researchers was that by providing improved individual skills, their crews would function more effectively. It was understood, through previous research and field experience, that variations in individual capabilities to deal with debilitating factors had serious implications for combat performance. These factors included:  uncertainty and ambiguity, stress, sleep disruption, fatigue, isolation from supporting organizations, poor situational awareness, as well as variations of individual capabilities within those small groups. It was believed that enhancing the ability of the individual soldier to balance these degrading aspects of the work (combat) environment, while still performing, was vital to outcomes.  Again, a primary, but not exclusive, source of data collection focused on tank crews.

All the studies conducted in the 1980s (not just the three key ones noted above) were targeted to identify what could be done, with training and other methods, to enhance individual capabilities. The goal was to define ways by which the support systems, which recruited, trained, provided, and sustained the manpower for field combat units, could provide a “better product”. Thus, when the conclusions, driven by the data acquired through the research, were different than anticipated, there was disbelief. This incredulity led to repeated efforts (more than 1,000 studies in a decade of research) to achieve the desired results: proving that units/crews/teams could be improved by upgrading the individuals who made up those work groups.

In study after study, as primarily evidenced by these three main studies cited, it was shown that, within small units, regardless of their composition, context or content, the unit leader was the critical element. Despite substantial efforts to impact outcomes through upgrading of individual skills, knowledge and capabilities, the role of the crew leader, and his capabilities was far more significant than any other member or combination of all other members of the unit. This surprising result was that each study showed that upgrading the leader had a far greater effect upon unit/crew/team performance and overall outcomes, as compared to all the things done to improve the other crew members. While it was not evaluated as a consequence of any other the studies (both the 3 primary and numerous other related ones), the reason for this effect was due to the significance of the crew leader as primary group coordinator. As ”Team Director” for the group, the Tank Commander has the most important role of the crew. He acts to direct the overall tank operations, coordinate crew activity and manage workloads. While many tasks can be, and are, delegated throughout the crew, there are numerous tasks which are Leader Only tasks. This set of activities defines those tasks which must be performed for any group to remain effective and functional, but which cannot be performed by any crew member except the tank commander, the crew leader. Thus, the tank commander has to evaluate the battle context, (the local and particular elements of the engagement in which his crew is involved), assess the unit mission, crew and tank capabilities, and then design the engagement. This design task can only be performed by the tank commander, and with the autonomy of his role, he bears the full responsibility for the outcomes.

The weight of study results demonstrated that there were a few essential Mechanisms of Action (MoAs) which describe the “how” of all small unit/crew/team performance. The studies defined the pivotal role of the group leader. The leader role in directing group work, assigning individual roles and tasks, and managing internal group processes, was instrumental in success or failure of the work group, regardless of the operating conditions. Also, it was shown that capable crew leaders foster group resilience, facilitated functioning under stress, and encouraged improved individual performance under all situations.  This was a clear, but unanticipated outcome, of all the studies. What the studies demonstrated was work groups could best be improved through a focus on upgrading the capabilities of their leader. The Tank Commander’s ability to perform in his assigned role was the most essential aspect in success or failure of a crew, no matter what other controlled variables were altered.

The charts below are a compilation of the data and results identified in these three key studies which have been discussed. Between 1981 and 1994, additional corroboration data was gathered through a variety of other related studies engaged in seeking a solution to the failure of aircraft flight crews to manage in-flight emergencies (as mentioned previously). This effort, labeled as Crew Resource Management (CRM), produced extensive research data on how small groups could adequately cope with emergency (time-compressed) situations, and better utilize the capabilities which resided within those persons present in the flight crew. These studies were conducted to support the development of FAA mandated Aviation CRM training and evaluation programs. This data base was further supplemented through post-conflict research about military combat unit performance during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991 (Gulf War I), and the post-9/11 combat operations in the Middle East (Gulf War II), in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This was corroborated with unit performance evaluations during more than 25 years of experience in peace-keeping operations around the globe.

This growing list of studies served to corroborate historical research and memoirs of those who have participated in combat operations. This includes all armies in the 20th century engaged in combat operations, not just those of the US Army. It has long been noted by leaders and trainers that the key route to unit performance success lies through the direct, front line leader.  A new US Army study, announced in January 2012, was to examine how to best improve the efficiency of the Army squad (the fundamental fighting unit). The study results have yet to be made public. However, in light of the information mentioned above, it is unlikely that the conclusions of this new research study will differ from its predecessors. The latest study will probably not serve to support the stated premise of improved individual capabilities being a key contributory factor for crew performance, while proving, once again, the supremacy of leader capabilities as the keystone for group performance.


Tabulation of Findings:

In the following tables, the results of the various studies noted above are consolidated to demonstrate the implications and what variations in performance can be expected from a combination of differing capabilities of work groups and direct front line leaders.  The wide variance in outcome performance (between below average and excellent) is a median number. Clearly, individual small work groups and their leaders will differ, as the many variables weigh differently in differing situations and the effect of their combination can change. There is a strong conventional wisdom bias that suggests that individual characteristics and personality can play a key, even an enormous role, in small group performance. However, there is a substantial data base of information which substantiates the opposite conclusion. What the various key studies showed was that while individual characteristics might impact the methods used or specific choices made, it was the context factor (tank commander and the environment they create) which was the predominant factor, not the personality of the assigned individual, which was most influential impact upon individual behavior. Furthermore, it was the critical nature of the role, not the individual personality of the tank commander, which dominates results also. The data from these studies was aggregated to generate these values. The end notes identify the primary factors which comprise the values.


Performance Effectiveness Quotient:

Leaders and Units of Workers (Work Groups, Crews, or Teams)



Group[i] Leader[ii]
Below Average (D) .4 .5


1.0 1.0
Above Average (B) 1.4 1.6


1.6 2.0


Unit Effectiveness:

The table below shows the results of overall effectiveness for assigned/ associated small work group, (unit/crew/team) resulting from the combination of the capabilities of their front line leader in conjunction with the other members of that group. This table uses the factors defined in the previous table.  The obvious implication of this table demonstrates the pivotal nature and disproportionate impact of the direct front line leader.


Crew Leader / Unit Effectiveness




Below Average




Above Average (B) Excellent




.8 2.0 2.8 3.2
Above Average (B) .64 1.4 2.24 2.56


.4 1.0 1.4 1.6
Below Average


.2 .5 .7 .8


Not only do all groups do better when they have a good or better direct leader, the greatest benefit for an organization can be attained by upgrading their good or above average leaders. Clearly, below average leaders and groups represent an organizational liability. These poor performing groups and leaders should either be improved or their membership within the organization be terminated.[iii]

[i] A less than effective group suffers as a consequence of the intra-group conflicts – which waste energy and effort, as well as the substantial group process losses which occur due to the poor interpersonal relationships, poor organization and resource management, defective collaboration, inadequate coordination and resultant confusion.


[ii] A leader has two sets of demands, the internal group requirements, necessary to manage the group so as to accomplish their assigned tasks, and the external demands, which can come from the sponsoring organization and its chain-of-command as well as other 3rd party groups outside their direct chain-of-command. A struggling leader will often let his group “coast” (by neglecting the internal group management demands) while attending to the external demands (which routinely are viewed as more materially impactful upon judgments of their performance). Additionally, all leaders have numerous Leader Only Functions to be performed, thus, a struggling leader will concentrate on those, leaving the intra-group or even inter-group management aspects to languish.


[iii] Field Marshall Earl Wavell, a successful British Army officer noted: Soldiers do better when they have a good leader than when they have a good cause.  He recognized this, through his own long military career of service to his country and by observing the same patterns among those whom he witnessed the impacts of their leadership actions and results. Wavell came to understand that seldom do those at the grassroots level give much thought to the higher purpose for which they are contending, but they all are strongly interested in the immediate leader who is in control of their personal destiny.

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