The OODA Loop, Teaming, and Psychological Safety

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

The OODA loop provides a “way to think about organizational behavior, an operational scheme for organizational success.” - John Boyd

To improve the quality of their OODA loops, organizations must focus on overcoming the unavoidable realities of the human factor contained within “Orient"—the focal point of the OODA loop. Orientation should be viewed as a result, one that determines how an organization observes, decides, acts, and ultimately, if it survives to dominate or be dominated.


Ego and fear, hierarchical structures, cognitive biases, organizational memory, cultural differences, our reptilian brain, and other human factors cloud an organization’s orientation. Blockbuster’s orientation, for example, remained on its current business model even though weak signals from within and externally suggested the market was going to shift. Today, with its one store in Oregon, I can be nice and say that Blockbuster survived to be dominated by Netflix.


OODA loop and Teaming

So how does an organization overcome the unavoidable realities of the human factor to improve its orientation? In a word: Teaming. Teaming (non-technical skills) involves people coming together from diverse backgrounds to address complex problems and is the engine of organizational learning (Edmondson, 2012). To team, the non-technical skills of teamwork must be learned, practiced, and reinforced by the organization’s reward system. Teaming targets three key links within the OODA loop: Implicit Guidance and Control (IG&C), Feedback, and Feed-forward. (Teaming also targets the Decision node of the OODA loop but I’ll save that for the OODA-Cynefin post.)


Decentralized control and the principles of Mission Command are represented by the IG&C, Feedback, and Feed-forward links of the OODA loop. Teaming accelerates organizational OODA loops by reducing friction along the IG&C, Feedback, and Feed-forward links and enables teams to move rapidly from orientation to action, bypassing the decision node. This is what differentiates the OODA loop from the linear PDCA cycle and why the OODA loop should never be drawn as a single loop. OODA and PDCA are not the same.


The PDCA cycle and OODA loop are not the same. The OODA loop should never be drawn as a single loop.

Teaming requires a new type of leadership that supports overcoming the unavoidable realities of the human factor. To get people to speak up, share ideas, ask questions, experiment, admit a mistake, and reflect—all those things that improve orientation—leaders must foster a psychologically safe environment. Psychological safety is not something that can be created with a PowerPoint brief, posters on the wall, or an open-door policy. Instead, leaders have to learn how to display fallibility, how to invite participation, and how to use direct language. Leaders need to learn how to team.


Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, founder of AGLX, and the creator of the ZONEFIVE™ Team Performance Indicator. Contact Brian at brian@aglx.consulting.



References:

The “way to think about organizational behavior, an operational scheme for organizational success.” is from Richards, C. (2006). The OODA Loop. Retrieved Oct 2017, from Project on Government Oversight:

http://www.dnipogo.org/richards/boyds_ooda_loop.ppt


The concept of "the the unavoidable realities of the human factor" is borrowed from Snowden, D. (2015, Jan 15). Weak Signal Detection: The see-attend-act model of decision making. Retrieved Dec 6, 2018, from Cognitive Edge: http://cognitive-edge.com/uploads/presentations/Weak_signal_detection.pdf


Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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