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[Last amended: 23 May 16]


Here I will looks at a time when chaos is acknowledged to have reigned. I have chosen for my case a 24 hour period within Operation OVERLORD. This period is the 6th of June 1944; it is commonly referred to as "D-Day".  I have chosen this day because my Father-in-Law, Cyril Redhead, was there and he told me that it was chaos. He also told me that they coped, they did their job and won through. He was a quiet gentleman with a delightful stubborn streak. I could only imagine what he went through and how he coped . The more I have read of that day, the more I admire each and every man that was there. Not that they all acted with great courage  or even honourably but they were there in conditions that many equated to being in hell. They were humans with all the foibles, strengths and weaknesses that it means to be human.  So how did they cope, how did they succeed, how did luck (exogenous happenstances) play for each side and each person? What they showed was that it was not the chaos that was to be feared, it was the induced inaction, it was the paralysis, it was the mental collapse from what Weick describes as cosmological episodes (when the world around you makes no sense) that is to be feared. From my reading of events on that day I am looking to distil lessons from how they coped with the chaos that can be applied today to business and life in general.


The research will be a review of literature.  I am examining the many books and websites devoted to this subject. This is not therefore a classic academic review of peer evaluated  papers. This is a review of what the average manager would read to understand a subject. It is a review that looks at how data is assimilated and evaluated to make sense of it. It is about how individuals evaluate many expert opinions that both contradict each other and make unwarranted (unproven) assertions. It also points to the indeterminate value of eye witness accounts. In this work I will also look at how a single local perspective can distort an evaluation. I therefore try to look at the day not only from both sides but also within its wider context. What is becoming very clear is that the more data you have, the less clear you become about the detail. After reading half a dozen books I had a clear idea of what occurred. After some more reading, as the experts contradicted each other, the pattern of what actually happened became less clear. As I have gone on, the data starts to reveal the true chaos of the day. As for that chaos and how they coped, you will have to wait. It is a fascinating story.


Methodological Approach


I have been asked what I hope to learn from this work. In short, I hope to see how those involved with the events  on 6 June 1944 at OMAHA beach managed to cope and then succeed when all around them seemed to be degenerating into  chaos. The question therefore becomes how I plan to go about this.


As part of the analytical process I have constructed a catalytic cube to help stimulate my thinking. The dimensions to be used are:


  • Form of Coordination

  • Commander's Perspective

  • Communications Dimension


I will explain each in turn.


Forms of Coordination 



The first dimension is consideration of the forms of coordination used. My starting point is Perrow's warning contained within his idea of the Normal Accident.  Perrow warns that where complex systems are "tightly coupled", things will go wrong. We therefore have to ask the question of any system whether its components are tightly or loosely coupled. Thompson (1967) provides us with a description of three types of interdependence that we can use to assist in the task. A fourth was added by others later. These interdependences are [1] Independent or "pooled", [2] Sequential, [3] Reciprocal or [4] Team.


  • Independent or "pooled": this type of interdependence can be seen in a call-centre. Here, in the main, each person deals separately with their own task while relying on the same infrastructure. While their tasks are loosely coupled, all individuals are tightly coupled to the infrastructure. Should the infrastructure fail, it would immediately affect them all.

  • Sequential: Sequential interdependence is, as it suggests, based on a sequence of actions. Here the degree of coupling will depend on the context. It will depend on the point at which subsequent actions are able to start and their reliance on what has gone before.  In simple terms, interdependence (or coupling) may depend on any or all of the delivery variables (quality, quantity, time or cost).


  • Reciprocal: Reciprocal interdependence is also, as it suggests, based on reciprocity between the interdependent parts, where working parts relate to each other both as inputs and outputs. As with sequential, coupling will depend on the context.


  • Team: the idea of "team" was added later to Thompson's work. This interdependence is where a group is all working, in different ways, to the same end with no fixed script about how they will interact from moment to moment. There is extensive literature that examines "pseudo groups" (team equivalent of a planning "fantasy document") and "real teams"; however, for the purpose of this work, a real team is one that works well together instinctively. Work done by Katzenbach & Smith, (1993) provides a five point scale to help stimulate our thinking.



So we now have four labels to provide a catalyst to think about the types of interdependence that may exist between system components. The questions then become how might these interdependences be fostered. In his book analysing a disaster, Snook (2000) uses the constructs of [1] Standards, [2] Plans and [3] Mutual adjustment to suggest how this may be done. I would add a fourth, "Cross-Understanding". Here are my thoughts of these categorisations:


  • Standards: While initially this might seem a clear categorisation, in fact it is not. The term "standard" could include everything from formal (written) international standards through to the informal routines (common ways of working) carried out by workers. This categorisation does not make clear who has the authority to change the routine implied by the standard.


  • Plan: this category includes any formal or informal sequential arrangements for the delivery of a desired end.

  • Mutual adjustment: It is generally accepted that the term "mutual adjustment" is the way that one party accommodates the differing purposes of others, but does not lose sight of where they themselves want to go. The key here is that under this category the parts involved are pursuing different purposes.

  • Cross-Understanding: this is the extent to which group members have an accurate understanding of one another’s mental models in pursuit of a common purpose. This is seen as a key mechanism within real teams.


The table below shows a perceived relationship between the interdependences and the promotional mechanisms. It is taken from Snooks' work. I have added the last line:



While the flaws in this table become apparent very early in its use, it still provides the best starting point yet found for this debate. Linked to this construct on coordination I would add consideration of "Levers of Controls" (Simons, 1995). Simons' levers are categorised as [1] Core Values, [2] Boundaries, [3] Monitoring and [4]  Learning.

  • Core Values: here, the  values are used to inspire the search for new opportunities and guide strategic decision-making. It is these values that I am looking to identify in the STRAND 2 Part 2 work.

  • Boundaries: these are the limits set on members' freedom of action.

  • Monitoring: system used to evaluate and adjust progress towards predefined goals and objectives.

  • Learning:  while often based on trial and error, these systems enable an organisation to develop and adjust to an ever changing environment.


What is interesting about these levers of control is that they can be seen to be the antithesis of the prescribed routine of standards espoused by those wedded to the perfect world paradigm. While the use of standards looks to couple activity tightly to outcomes (but offers little in the way of coping with an ever changing environment), the levers of control offer a more loosely coupled system that does look to cope with change. In the end, part of this debate comes down to working out the degree of initiative permissible at different levels of the organisation in order to meet changes in the working environment.


In addition to what has gone before, there are some other factors that need to be considered. These are:


  • Training: none of what has gone before takes into account the amount of resource needed to prepare people to act in an acceptable manner. Real teams do not just happen. A great deal of work goes into creating them and so we need the clearly recognisable scale that has been built into the team dimension.

  • Socialisation: this is about the process by which members of a group adsorb the culture and values of the group to become part of a real team. It is recognised that this process has both an active as well as a passive component. As part of this work, what I am interested in are the active measures that can be taken in this area to develop a group into a real team.

  • Structures: structure provide a way of combining capabilities in order to enhance coordination. However the same structures may also work against coordination under different circumstances. It is therefore necessary to consider this issue as the environment changes.

  • Nodes: within this context, nodes are seen to function as "Coordinators". This function may vary from those who simply provide a link that enables coordination to take place, through the "Leader" who directs what is to happen to the "Messiah figure" who is seen to provide solutions to all of the community's problems.

This dimension is far from straightforward. It is hoped that the data from the D-Day case will help bring greater clarity to this debate and produce a single coherent scale to this dimension.

Commanders Perspective


The second dimension looks at the commanders' perspectives on the day.  In terms of a scale for this dimension, I will look at three levels. These would be:

  • Macro - this considers the perspective of US Naval Commander (Kirk) and his Army equivalent (Bradley).

  • Mezzo - this considers the perspective of the divisional commander and his proxies on the beach. These proxies are two divisional deputy commanders (Wyman and Cota) and the regimental commanders (Taylor and Canham).


  • Micro - this considers the perspective of the squads that make up boat teams. This considers how the boats understood the battle situation around them and how they combined with other boat teams to produce the overall divisional effort.


Here I will be looking at three main issues in this dimension. These are:

  • The commander's ability to develop situational awareness and the horizon they are able to scan. While many talk of the "view out of their foxhole" referring to the men in the front line, this idea extends to commanders at the rear as well.  As opposed to their foxhole , the commander can become just "a man in a box" where he is isolated to the point that he only knows what he can see around him. (Scale may be:  [1] isolated, [2] some data, [3] enough data, [4] full picture OR [1] Perception, [2] comprehension, [3] projection.)

  • The commander's expectation of success, including the timescale within which they expect this to occur, is of particular interest. Here the issue is whether the commander's expectations match the actual decision-action cycle timescale.  (Scale may be: [1], unrealistic [2] realistic)

  • Finally, it will be interesting to note how various commanders dissipate the strain they feel caused by their inability to affect the situation around them. Examples of this are "impotent rage" seen as they shout at their staff for want of any more effective action!  (Scale may be: [1] internalise, [2] externalise)


The military lay great stall by the role of their commanders in crisis situations. The question here is what role the commanders actually play as opposed to roles played by routines, culture and improvisation.

Communications Dimension


The final dimension consists of the communication available to those seeking to ensure that their activity is coordinated. Here I will be looking at both modes and means of communications.


  • Communication Modes.  March and Simon (1958) suggest three modes of communications. These are:

  • Impersonal (also referred as "Bureaucratic"):  this mode consists of "Send Only" communications. This may take the form of documents or briefings where there is no opportunity for the recipient to question the author(s) directly.

  • Personal: this mode is "One-2-One". This consists of a dialogue between Individuals whether they are face to face or over some means of communications. A scale here may be created by the extent of the two-way nature of this communication.


  • Groups:  this mode is "One-2-Many".  This consists of both formal and informal meetings or briefings.  Again the scale here may be created by the extent of the two-way nature of this communication.


  • Communication Means. Here the means of communication will be considered under three categories. These are:

  • Primary: This consists of the designed means of communications.


  • Secondary: This consists of the planned alternative means of communications.


  • Improvised: This looks at the communications means used after both primary and secondary means have failed.


  • Data Utility. There are many factors that affect how useful data may be. There are also a number of other labels given to this issue; these labels include "richness" or "quality". Whatever the label used, the issue is whether the data enables sufficient situational awareness to enable decision makers to decide what to do next. The variable would include such issues as accuracy, timeliness, relevancy, appropriateness and completeness. While the scale often uses such states as "raw data" (unanalysed) and "rich data" (information able to change understanding), this scale does not cover the possibility that there is no data of any significance. At present the proposed scale will therefore be [1] no data, [2] raw data, [3] rich data.


In summary, under this dimension I will examine how communications were affected and how the parties had planned to communicate.

STRAND 1 Catalytic Cube


As a catalytic cube the dimensions of this issue can be portrayed as:


Data Collection


Finally, I will look to collect the data necessary to determine the need to coordinate and how those involved on OMAHA Beach (6 June 1944) coped with the chaos they confronted that day. To this end I will use a four columned table that describes an event and gives a description of how they coped by using the three dimensions described above.

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