A ‘Team of Teams’ approach to security operations – Forward Observer Shop

A ‘Team of Teams’ approach to security operations

I was reviewing some notes from this month’s Hurricane Florence intelligence mission, and I keep coming back to a central theme.

All things being equal, better coordination between intelligence and operations equals better outcomes.
When intel and ops are well-integrated, you typically get better intelligence, better decision-making, and and a synchronization that can drive operations faster and farther.

I liken the relationship between intelligence and operations to two gears with interlocking cogs. The faster and harder the intelligence wheel is spinning (i.e., more production), the faster and harder you can drive operations.

Let’s quickly apply this to the intelligence support mission for search and rescue teams during Hurricane Florence…

The intelligence we produce could be actionable, such as a map with two layers showing residential areas and currently flooded areas. That overlap is where a bulk of high water rescues will take place, hence where operations needs to plan their missions. Rescue requests from social media is another form of actionable intelligence. Those people are using Facebook and Twitter to crowdsource a response and get in touch with search and rescue teams.

But our intelligence could also be predictive, like expected flood conditions two or three days from now.

If we expect flooding to recede in the current area of operations but get worse in another area, then planners can begin the process of shifting operations to an area with a greater need for high water rescues. There’s little worse for search and rescue teams than to have a dozen boats sitting on trailers with no one in the area to rescue. That’s one significant way that intelligence can drive operations, and it’s a good example of intelligence integrated with operations in a disaster scenario.

I keep coming back to the same question: how best do we integrate intelligence and operations so we can synchronize our efforts?


As luck would have it, this morning I started reading an article from the latest issue of Parameters, the Army War College publication, entitled “Countering Russian Meddling in US Political Processes”. Never mind the topic, because I want to address the process the authors describe: a team of teams.

I was first introduced to the Team of Teams concept when reading the book of the same title by Gen. Stanley McChrystal (USA, Ret.), the former head of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). (You can read my review of that book here.)

Getting everyone ‘on the same page’ is a fundamental problem you’ll run into with ACE operations for emergency preparedness and response. (Here’s a primer on ACE operations.)

And if the operational tempo is faster than the intelligence section can keep up with, you’re going to get one of two things: operations being driven without intelligence (bad) or a stall in operations waiting on the required intelligence (also bad).

So how do you solve this problem?

Here’s how co-author Sean Fussel described the benefit of the team of teams approach to warfighting:

Resynchronizing for 90 minutes every 24 hours… the sessions would include thousands of participants around the globe. More important than the cadence or methodology of these forums was the end state they aimed to achieve. The intent of each session was to reestablish a shared consciousness between those involved, that is, a common understanding of what the problem looked like in the moment, and what new intelligence was most critical to the next phase of decision-making.

Intelligence and operations must be synchronized, whether we’re talking about community security, disaster response, or something worse.

My best advice to integrate intel and ops is to identify each team involved in those two sections, and pick a leader from each team to attend the synchronization meeting.

So we have the ACE Chief — he attends. We have an analysis team – get the lead analyst to attend. We have a collection team or teams (SIGINT, HUMINT, etc.) — get someone from each of your collection arms to attend. We have a battle captain — he attends. We have mission planners — they attend.

Then identify their specific missions, or what they bring to the table. Then bring them together for a 30 or 60 minute synchronization meeting each morning before the majority of your missions begin (or each night, as in the case of JSOC).

You might start this meeting with an intelligence brief. What’s the latest intelligence you can offer the team? Let them know what you’re still trying to answer for them.

In the case of the operations staff, stress to the intelligence section: “These are our top priorities for today/tomorrow/next week.” That gears up the intelligence section to then satisfy those requirements so you can make better decisions.

Identify your problem points, brainstorm some solutions, prioritize what you want done, and then execute. (I’m reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Prioritize and Execute is a big part of my life now.)

In this meeting, you want to build what Gen. McChrystal calls a “shared consciousness”. (Here’s a primer on that concept, too.)

The more integrated all these sections can be — the more “plugged in” to the mission and commander’s intent — the more unity of effort we’ll achieve. And when we have all teams contributing to the mission, we’re more likely to achieve mission success.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please let me know. You can leave a comment below.

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Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper



Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

1 Comment

  1. Have you ever looked and the “Incident Command System” (ICS). It is what the Forest Service uses for wildland firefighting and other emergency incidents. The planning cycle is usually 12hrs. There is planning meeting that does much of what you talk about in your article. Here is a link to a power point primer on the ICS planning section and planning cycle. https://slideplayer.com/slide/6892777/

    Might be worth your time. Other ICS training is readily available online if your interested in more.

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