McKinsey: How the British Army’s operations went agile

Military commanders have had to change the way they operate in the field. Corporate executives should take note.

Much has been written over the years about parallels between the military and large corporations. But what insights are most relevant for senior executives today in an age of agile organizations? With his long experience in the Army and then in business, Justin Maciejewski is unusually well placed to reflect on the lessons for business, as a former commander of the British Army’s 800-strong 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, during its vital peacekeeping mission in Basra, Iraq, from 2007 to 2008.

Maciejewski’s career in the army spanned more than a quarter of a century, taking in the years after the Falklands War, in 1982, to recent operations alongside coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and the Middle East. It was a time that coincided with the development of a new type of leadership based on empowerment, designed to make the British Army more tactically agile and able to overcome larger adversaries through maneuvers, rapid planning, and decision making that disrupt and break down the enemy’s cohesion. This has transformed the British Army’s approach, which for generations had been based on centrally controlled, set piece battles focused on overwhelming firepower and attrition. Awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his role in Iraq, Maciejewski joined McKinsey in 2013 and was appointed director general of the National Army Museum in London in 2018.

In this conversation with McKinsey’s Rob Theunissen, Maciejewski talks about the modern army’s agile model, the balance between command and control, the importance of (good) process, and the notion of learning without blaming.

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-Building agility in the British Army’s headquarters

Three leaders from British Army headquarters lay out what it took to bolster agility and flexibility in its operations.

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