Samhandling: Enabling Auftragstaktik


Military Strategies for Samhandling in Unforeseen Situations – A Historical Perspective,
do Cdr Tommy Krabberød, Ph.D., and Dr. Jan O. Jacobsen,
Royal Norwegian Naval Academy

Chapter 25 in Interaction: ‘Samhandling’ Under Risk, A step ahead of the unforeseen, Glenn-Egil Torgersen, Ed., Oslo, NO: Cappelen Damm Akademisk, 2018, pp. 467-480.

I know what you’re thinking: OMG! Another post on Auftragstaktik! Just kill me now.

I am assuming that most of my readers are familiar with Auftragstaktik (if not, search this site or Google the term). Even if you are, or perhaps especially, I think you’ll find Krabberød and Jacobsen’s paper well worth your time.

For example, we all know about the great vol Moltke (the Elder, of course), but are you familiar with Maurice of Nassau and how he plays into the development of mission command? And why does he matter?

Why is it that at various times, anti-Auftragstaktik — a non-thinking iron discipline with no deviations allowed from the orders received — has proven highly successful?  Same is true for business, where American car companies that adopted Taylorism / “scientific management” dominated the world in the first 3/4 of the 20th century.

Put aside the human tendency to assume that what’s true today will always be so and ask: Why can’t Nie eine Schritt ohne Befehl be the formula for success again? When you take into account advances in surveillance and AI, it might not be so far-fetched.

On the other hand, it seems that such organizations prosper only so long as their competitors adopt similar philosophies. Thus France succumbed to the German Blitzkrieg, and those same American auto makers fell to the Japanese. As K&J summarize it, the rationale for Auftragstaktik:

is to use the chaos of the battlefield as an advantage. The purpose is to increase the enemy’s perception of chaos and thereby increase the enemy’s friction, by exploiting windows of opportunity quickly and in unpredictable ways. This school focuses on agility, initiative and decentralization.

And data do show that military forces that operate according to these “maneuver” principles routinely defeat their more traditional adversaries (See the first couple of chapters of Biddle’s Military Power, for example).

If you do believe that human creativity and initiative are the immutable foundations of success, what is the best way to create organizations that can exploit them effectively?

K&J point out some recent research that may surprise you. More is better when it comes to the interactions (Samhandling roughly translates to “interaction”) that develop organizational unity and cohesion. But less is better for the structure of the training itself.  This leads to what they call a “fourth way” (read the paper), which

differs from the other three in that it is based on “indirect education”; that is, the students are given the opportunity to solve new problems by themselves, to gain experience that is, as far as possible, self-generated and thereby they become more aware and confident in dealing with new situations.

After all, the cadre won’t be scripting things out for you on the real battlefield.

So what they recommend are more opportunities for the teams in training to identify and solve problems on their own, on the way to accomplishing the assigned missions.  The challenge for the trainers is to design the succession of problems and assess the students’ learning as they progress through them. A much more difficult task than checking off answers against the school solutions.

You’ll find some interesting insights in K&J’s short chapter, and maybe, if you’re lucky, even a few that you don’t agree with. And we have a new word in the English language: to samhandle (yes, they do use it as an English verb). Just in time for the arrival of Spring.

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