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Teaming: Get ready

Teaming: Get ready

In the movie Batman versus Superman, Batman concludes that the era of a single superhero is over. To face the threats of the future, he realises he needs to assemble a super team, people with widely different skills but who, in common, are good and strong of heart. Reinvigorated by the example of Superman’s purity, Batman sets off to create the Justice League.  DC Comics continue this theme in the related film Suicide Squad. Here we see an eclectic bunch of oddballs and societal rejects, who – despite their flaws – each have unique strengths. A US special forces officer is tasked to bring them together, as they are the only ones capable of defeating evil meta-humans.

What does this have to do with the Army? When futurists scan the horizon, they universally agree that the future Army faces significant complexity, far greater than has been experienced to date. Much thought and resources have been applied to preparing the Army technologically – but what about Army’s approach to teamwork? What sort of teams will thrive in such an environment? How is the ‘human dimension’ changing? What socio-cultural forces are in play? Certainly, one of them is the shift in gender identity – for both men and women.

Gender? Again? While many may understandably feel a sense of ‘issue fatigue’ with the word gender, one argument is that rather than ‘leaning away’ from what has at times been a painful discussion, at this particular moment in history, Army needs to ‘lean in’ further.

This argument is articulated in a discussion paper released today: Teaming: optimising military capability for the coming Era of Equality: 2020 to 2050/teaming-an-introduction-to-gender          

It is a large document – the size of book – and should be regarded as a ‘deep dive’ into gender issues and Army capability. It synthesises research from a wide range of fields – cognitive science; feminism; masculinity studies; and developments in the security environment – and seeks to paint a picture of the full ‘gender dimension.’ With only one painter, the picture is inevitably incomplete, however, it is a start point, and will encourage others to fill in the gaps. When we collectively achieve a common picture, even if parts are still sketchy, we are all empowered to better navigate this new human terrain.

In this deep dive, here are some of the insights and ideas discovered:

  • Positive masculinity. This seeks to break away from the ‘what’s wrong with men’ approach to gender studies and instead consider the positive attributes of masculinity, like men’s tendency to use humour to deftly manage stressful or difficult situations. This field brings new ideas about how to enhance men’s health, wellbeing and performance.
  • Wake Forces. There may be a need to raise a new capability with a ‘human dimension’ focus and population protection tasks. With a roughly 50% male-female mix, it would have expertise in areas like gender, culture and language. This responds to the growing ‘war among the people’ aspect of modern warfare, and related problems like human trafficking and paedophile networks which exploit vulnerable populations. The assessment is that Wake Forces need to be stood up from 2020, to be effective by 2023. (Named in honour of Nancy Wake, AC, GM)
  • New mateship. This is the practice of taking extra time to clarify understandings, guard against cognitive bias and release others from rigid and diminishing gender, cultural or other identity constructs.

Teaming is intended to be a conversation starter, not the definite answer. If a resourced, deliberate Joint Military Appreciation Process (JMAP) of the gender dimension was conducted, other ideas and constructive options will surface. There are two reasons extra effort is worth it. If the worst happens and a large-scale mobilisation is needed, Army as a predominantly people-based capability, must be ready to quickly integrate the changing Australian civilian. Large civilian mobilisations occurred in both world wars and Vietnam, they were magnificent then and, if called upon, they will be again, but they will be ‘a different mob.’  Secondly, the five-year Pathways to Change program has come to an end and politicians are starting to ask “what next?” Army needs to be an informed and active participant in this discussion. As this is not a new problem, (women have been part of the Army team since WWI), there are already some extremely sound foundations. Army members have much embodied, sophisticated knowledge about teams and must be empowered to confidently join this conversation. This is because, as General McChrystal has well-articulated, teamwork is part of capability, while Teaming argues that getting gender right is part of teamwork. Gender is important, but the military will need its own way of addressing this, and more thought is needed to get this right. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu provides advice to Princes on management of their armies. One of the errors he counsels them to avoid, may still apply today: 

“Ignorant of military affairs, to rule the armies in the same way as the state. This is to perplex the soldiers.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War[1]

However, for Army to be constructively involved in the strategic ‘what next’ discussion, it needs to understand ‘gender studies.’ The problem is, some people still flinch when they hear the word ‘gender.’ Acknowledging this, the recommendation is to take a deep breathe, a running leap and jump into the ‘gender studies’ pool. Yes, it will be like an icy cold ocean plunge. You will probably squeal out aloud. Your face may have an astonished, horrified expression when it comes up for air. But after a while, you may get used to it. You may even start catching waves. Then, a newly fortified and invigorated force can turn its focus to the difficult challenges that lie ahead and confront us all.

Aspects of Teaming will be explored in more detail through the Army’s Professional Military Education web-portal, The Cove.


[1] Tzu Sun (2010). The Art of War Including the translated The Sayings of Wu Tzu. U.K., Capstone Publishing. p.22

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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