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Starfish vs. Spiders: Installations Must Adapt to Increase Community Partnering

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  • November 17, 2011
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The ADC 2011 Annual Conference offered a useful proving ground to test the lessons of the 2006 book about decentralized management, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, writes Craig College, the Army’s deputy assistant chief of staff for installation management, in the most recent edition of the U.S. Army Journal of Installation Management.

Conference speakers from community organizations, particularly ones supporting service members and their families, typically exhibited the traits common to the leaders of starfish organizations, College observed. They acted as catalysts in organizations without a tight chain of command. Military officials, including garrison commanders, represent classic chain-of-command organizations, termed spiders in the book.

The problem occurs when starfish and spiders try to work together. During one session at the Norfolk conference, a garrison commander said that it would be difficult for him to support many of the homegrown efforts dedicated to helping personnel and their families. According to the commander, it is challenging to obtain approval from higher-ups to enter into formal partnerships with such organizations, primarily due to the lack of resources and legal issues, College wrote.

But making such relationships work will be critical if installations are to survive in a lean budget environment. “The most affordable future for military installations and their surrounding communities is to create partnerships in far greater numbers that feed off each other’s strengths and economize on our weaknesses to survive the coming economic challenge. These approaches must become routine and pervasive,” he states.

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