Beyond Staff Rides – How to Broaden Your Team With Site Visits

Many staff officers and budding leaders have been exposed to battlefield visits. Organizers of these staff rides hope that lessons learned from combat years ago may offer fresh insight and understanding. As beneficial as these opportunities may be – another form of staff ride, an old fashioned field-trip, may be even more advantageous for professional development.

Site visits to successful small businesses, corporations, non-profits, etc. can provide leaders and their staffs powerful insights to apply in military contexts. During these exchanges, leaders and their teams will discover common problems, unique challenges, trends, and innovations. Additionally, leaders that leverage off-post trips to broaden their team will discover that many in the civilian world will not only be ecstatic to help but they will also be excited to contribute to the military’s effort to improve its members. This small effort may not only grow one’s team but also help reduce the often referenced perception of a growing civilian-military divide.

As you consider how to maximize the potential of site visits we offer a few recommendations.

  • Do your homework. Before you and your team head out, learn about the organization you will be visiting and show up prepared to ask insightful questions.
  • Be ready to explain to your hosts that the purpose of your visit is about group discussion and learning – not because you have some hidden agenda. Focus on the power of conversation and explain that what they say will not be attributable.
  • Do not embarrass your hosts by challenging their approach or decision-making.  Instead, try to understand the “why” behind their course of action.
  • Visit more than one site in a day and cast your net wide. By visiting vastly different sites – perhaps a local charity followed by a manufacturing center – your team will naturally discover commonalities and differences. These points of comparison are great for later reflection for your team.
  • Consider wearing business casual rather than battlefield dress. Uniforms and rank often increase formality and can hinder open dialogue. If the intent of a site visit is to broaden one’s team then you may not want to impose a contextual element that may hinder subordinates from taking the lead in the discussion.
  • Make these visits a regular part of your annual battle rhythm. Find ways to incorporate your lessons learned into a broader professional development program and share your insights with other units and leaders.

Finally, as you prepare for your visit, here are some sample questions you may considering asking.

  • What lessons has your organization learned? – How do you share those insights?
  • How do you leverage your team to make decisions? – Who are your experts?
  • How do you grow your people? How do people advance in your organization?
  • How do you approach incentives? What matters most to your team?
  • How do you innovate? – How do you inspire creativity?
  • What keeps you up at night? – What trend(s) cause you greatest concern?
  • Where do you see opportunity? – What excites you about where your organization is today?

As leaders look to grow the understanding and network of their team they should leverage the vast experience and insights available to them from the civilian world. Much can be gained by looking beyond typical military forums for professional development. By reaching out to civilian organizations, and taking the time to engage experts outside of the traditional DoD community, leaders can find new ideas, new approaches, and new partners. Maybe its time to transform battlefield staff rides into corporate staff visits.

As always – the views in this piece are mine alone and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, United States Army, or any other organization with which I have had any association.


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