Global Response Teams of Leaders


The intent to provide a meaningful, working approach to the global economic, political, social and health problems is a challenge often spoken about, but rarely addressed in a truly effective manner. 

ToL addresses this challenge by offering a structured, proven method of developing not only the spirit, but also the practice of cooperation and collaboration among disparate, often conflicting governmental and corporate organizations involved in some of the most daunting national and international challenges.  ToL was developed by the US Army to face the new set of global missions centered on close cooperation with military and civilian authorities involved in nation building, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief, and development of national stability in conflict or disaster-ravaged regions of the world.  ToL has been operationally tested by the US European Command (EUCOM) and Army Europe, and is now being adapted for civilian operations by the Center for Collaborative Command and Leadership.

Apart from the destruction they cause, events such as the earthquakes in Haiti or China, floods or heat waves in Europe, or hurricane Katrina, have another common element: stress, often massive, applied to not only healthcare systems, but to all other elements constituting the complex of response and recovery, e.g., transportation, food/water supply and delivery,  housing,  etc.  Many organizations outside the classical emergency response system are unprepared for operations in which “steady state” activities are either disrupted or cease entirely.  While effective cooperation and collaboration among agencies/organizations participating in development of both preparedness and resilience, and in disaster response and recovery, have been shown repetitively to be the essential elements of success, many efforts continue to fail despite extensive development of elaborate preparedness plans.

In the end, it is not the plan to work together that is essential, but the practical collaborative ability to do so that assures success.

The Center for Collaborative Command and Leadership aims to assist through research, education, and training in ToL the practical ability to work together, build effective high performing teams, and achieve consistent success despite often extreme austerity and hardship characteristic of post-disaster environments. 


The modern world operates as a tightly coupled environment.  The near-complete functional interdependence of individual components of such a “system of systems” is not only the source of global efficiency, but also the principal source of catastrophic global failures. The structural and functional complexity inherent to the entities operating as a “system of systems” results in the state of highly unstable equilibrium that perpetually permeates such entities: failure of one of the constituents induces destructive reverberations within the entire environment.  Unless promptly addressed and eliminated, the reverberations rapidly overcome the ability of the system to resist and adapt. The progressively increasing loss of equilibrium induces further, exceedingly destructive and potentially irreversible consequences that will affect not one but many, maybe even all, of the system’s components.  The event is a transboundary event; its consequences equally so.

Maintaining equilibrium of a tightly-coupled system, and prevention of destabilizing events can be attained only through the closest possible cooperation and collaboration of all involved actors, executed across the entire spectrum of professional and political domains, and based on unity of purpose to consolidate and guide all efforts.

The goal of responding to complex challenges is to reduce output variability in an environment of high input variability - to strive to impose order upon chaos. However, operations conducted in complex, transboundary environments such as presented by major cities or large-scale crises are associated with unavoidable unpredictability and uncertainty.  Inherent to all such situations is their constantly changing dynamic nature that imposes the demand for accurate and timely knowledge which can be acquired only through horizontal and vertical interactions among all participants, and where internal and external knowledge resources of the responding organizations are pooled through the appropriate information (IM) and knowledge management (KM) processes.

In transboundary environments, the processes of knowledge extraction and expertise identification, conversion, analysis, and employment - the foundation of the successful execution of all activities - are complicated by the participation of a large number of governmental, corporate, and often political entities with different hierarchies, cultures, and modes of operation. 


The concept of Teams of Leaders (ToL) emerged as the result of collaborative challenges faced by the US Army and the many US government agencies forced to work effectively in order to solve a wide range of complex and highly dissimilar problems.  The development of ToL , enabled by the explosive growth of information management systems (IM) and knowledge management (KM) processes and their increasingly rapid penetration throughout modern society, provided the “glue” that intimately bound technology, effective processes for virtual collaboration, and people.  It also multiplied the power of either through the relatively simple expedient of deliberately creating teams among which ToL becomes a mindset rather than a procedure.  The cumulative outcome was helping teams of leaders from disparate organizations find their common purpose, build trust and team competencies, and generate the confidence to tackle bigger and tougher challenges.

Today ToL represents a revolutionary approach to collaboration and cooperation among people and bureaucratic entities in both military and civilian organizations. Shared trust and confidence are the natural consequence of the process of team building.  The principal social outcome of this process is transformation of loosely interconnected experts into a closely knit High Performing Leader Team (HPLT). Through a network of rapidly growing vertical and horizontal connections, individual HPLTs can interact with each other and collaborate across boundaries of organizations, functions, levels, and culture. In the end, as the cross-pollination among HPLTs intensifies, the most fundamental aspect of any collaborative effort emerges – the condition and state of actionable understanding™.  


Implementation of the ToL concept increases transboundary mission understanding, enhances mission focus, and reduces inter-organizational friction and bureaucratic parochialism – all of which are well known elements that reduce utility of efforts centered on prevention, preparation for, and response to any large scale crisis or disaster.  Implementation of ToL-based processes reduces output variability, maximizes utility of effort, and focuses operational efforts on strategic rather than minor, often largely  inconsequential, goals.

ToL offers cardinal advantages in crisis and disaster operations:

  • It fosters transboundary HPLT collaboration
  • It creates the environment of cooperating Teams of Leaders unified by shared, mission-oriented, actionable understanding.
  • It provides the critical foundation for the development of effective crisis and disaster preparedness at all levels.
  • Operationally, ToL-based practices allow near-immediate generation of task-oriented “action swarms” and task-focused implementation of “just-in-time” solutions.
  • ToL serves both as a “soft” and “hard” force multiplier in the development of organizational, multi-organizational, and community resilience.
  • In collaborative environments involving a wide range of independent actors, ToL introduces two overriding  elements of successful joint operations: actionable understanding™ and unity of purpose.

These attributes help ToL-centered entities collaborate and communicate more effectively. They anticipate potential crises, rapidly detect their initial blind spots, develop effective countermeasures, rapidly make sense of the chaotic environment, and form simple and effective team operating agreements.  HPLTs address problems regardless of organizational boundaries and cultures.  ToL does not impose order upon chaos but reduces its impact by developing coherence of effort and the means of rapid containment of adversity.


Once learned, this approach becomes more of a mindset than a procedure and helps teams of leaders from disparate organizations find common purpose, build trust and team competencies and generate the confidence to tackle bigger and tougher challenges.

Lt. Gen. Frederic J. Brown, PhD, US Army (Ret.)

  Teams of Leaders