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The biggest career lesson this Navy SEAL learned in Iraq

June 21, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?” is by Chris Fussell, chief growth officer at McChrystal Group.

It’s difficult to feel as though you are truly being effective at work. Many of us feel trapped in endless meetings, with barely any time to grab lunch, let alone do any work. Overarching strategies and key priorities seem completely divorced from the day-to-day tactics. If you’re trying to stay productive, stop and think: Are my meetings actually productive, or are we merely having meetings for meetings’ sake? In today’s dynamic operating environment, you simply can’t afford to be bogged down by ineffective meetings that don’t align against your top priorities. The world, and your competitors, won’t wait for you to catch up.

In my former life as a Navy SEAL working under General Stan McChrystal in the Joint Special Operations Task Force, we ran into the same problem. It was 2004, we were stationed in Iraq, and we were losing the fight — our enemy was outmaneuvering us all. We were falling behind because our operations couldn’t keep up. While we were incredibly efficient, we weren’t being effective. There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing. In order to drive the latter, we had to change the way we operated.

The most important task was establishing a steady cadence of operations that aligned against our objective of defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. Haphazard, reactive meetings ensured that we were always one step behind, scrambling to solve the problem in front of us in an ad-hoc matter. We switched to an intense day-to-day focus on winning the fight and established a highly disciplined operating rhythm that fostered cross-functional communication. We knew we weren’t capable of winning the fight with our team alone — we needed to harness the brainpower of everyone across the Task Force, from analysts in D.C. to operators in Mosul. Information sharing and decision making in real-time would become the centerpiece of our operations.

We transformed an existing meeting, the Operations and Intelligence meeting (O&I), into our most critical forum. We installed videoconferencing technology, recognizing the importance of face-to-face communication. Everyone across the Task Force, which included thousands of individuals from various agencies, was invited to join. The first time we met we had less the 50 people on the videoconference. Our format focused on the results of the last 24 hours and what was to come. Going around the table, everyone provided status updates and shared key lessons learned. We met every single day for at least 90 minutes. By the end of General McChrystal’s tenure as commander of the Task Force, we had over 7,000 people dialing into the videoconference on a daily basis.

To an outsider, this may initially seem extremely unproductive. Meeting every single day with the entire organization for at least 90 minutes may seem to be a colossal waste of time, but to us it was invaluable. It allowed us to focus on our top priorities every day. The consistency of our meetings provided stability for us to assess and react to challenges as they came up, allowing us to adapt as one team. Having a dedicated time to address challenges that cropped up allowed us white space to execute — it freed up time for us to actually do work that drove strategic objectives.

As a leader you must consistently drive effective communication. Meetings must be deliberate and intentional — your organizational rhythm should value purpose over habit, and effectiveness over efficiency. Aligning your strategies to your day-to-day tactics will ensure productivity. If it worked for us, it can definitely work for you.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?

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