Want to succeed? Plan your work and life the way Green Berets plan their missions

Plan, re-plan, and execute.
Plan, re-plan, and execute.
Image: Reuters/Erik de Castro
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Quartz has previously explained the value of Green Beret training when it comes to being a CEO. But as former Special Forces officers now in the civilian world, we know that almost anyone can benefit from Green Beret training concepts. In fact, a Green Beret’s simplest yet most effective tool is the ability to plan properly. In operations around the world, and in everyday life, it’s planning that often makes the difference between success and failure. Here’s a quick guide to how planning the way a Green Beret does can help you succeed in the way they do.

Use the Military Decision Making Process

Green Berets are tasked with very specific kinds of missions, typically requiring them to remain isolated from other American forces. This means that instead of a US support team, Green Berets must be able to work closely alongside indigenous guerillas in enemy-held areas, or with security forces far from any support. Detachments consist of just 12 men. Though they’re given weapons and equipment appropriate for a much larger force, they must make up for their disadvantages in support and size with superior skills and organization. That’s why Green Berets even at the lowest levels have adopted a planning methodology called the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP).

MDMP is a step-by-step way to understand the situation and the given task, come up with multiple ways to accomplish that task, and then provide leaders with the information necessary to make an informed decision. It’s typically used by professional planners to help generals decide how to direct large operations and campaigns. Green Berets have modified MDMP to fit not only their missions, but also their detachment logistics. Each team has designated medics, engineers, communicators, and weapons specialists. While each member of the group is tasked with planning their respective specialty, all team members also handle additional duties. For instance, the engineer is also responsible for supply and materiel support, the medic with personnel and administration, and so on. The result is that the load is shared evenly by those most attuned to each respective task.

The takeaway: Adapting a proven methodology that allows each member of the team to thoroughly prepare—physically and mentally—for their role sets the whole group up for greater success. Keeping a balanced workload is achieved by ensuring each member’s roles is a fit for their training and job function.

Achieve focus and prepare for the unexpected through isolation

Green Berets know that although they’ll make a good advance plan, events outside of their control will force them to adapt on the fly. As the saying goes, no plan survives first contact. In order to anticipate potential changes, focused immersion and time management is built into their version of MDMP. Green Berets generally have much less time to truly understand their situation than a typical MDMP practitioner, and they must therefore isolate and immerse themselves in planning beforehand. They use a courier to handle outside tasks and don’t stop until they have a workable plan–a process that typically takes several days.

The most experienced man on the detachment, the team sergeant, is responsible for the planning timeline and holds the team to its schedule. In order to both be ready for the unexpected and determine the very best course of action, the detachment will devise at least three different ways to achieve the objective. While only one is eventually chosen, the additional research and analysis will be invaluable if and when the environment changes. Since all of the detachment is involved in the development of these multiple plans, each member also has a strong awareness of their options and are able to exercise more initiative.

The takeaway: Focused isolation in the mission-planning stage leads to better developed and more deeply considered results. We live in a world full of distractions, and when planning for do-or-die situations (in armed conflict or in business), it is vital to make sure the team is fully focused before the mission is gets underway.

What matters: The intent and the rehearsals

As with most combat-focused units, Green Berets know that the most important part of any plan is the Commander’s Intent—a short statement that says what the detachment must do and the conditions it must meet in order to succeed. This information, coupled with the knowledge gained from the in-depth planning process, allows every Green Beret to roll with the punches and still achieve his ultimate goal. Even if the detachment’s leaders are killed or wounded, the detachment can succeed without them, because each Green Beret understands which objective is most critical to success.

Many Green Berets will say that the most important part of this entire preparation process is the rehearsal: a step-by-step determination of what every detachment member will do at every part of the operation. It can take hours and seem monotonous, but it ensures that every part of the plan it clear to every member, that every member knows where to be and when, and it helps identify problems or conflicts that may arise throughout the operation. Its importance to successful execution cannot be overstated.

The takeaway: Taking the time to crystallize the overall goal of your work creates clarity and a sense of initiative. Once the goal is internalized, a rehearsal allows team members to visualize every potential outcome. Doing this, they will intrinsically gain an understanding of how they should adapt, individually and as a unit, in fluid situations.

With the application of just one or two of these features of Green Beret planning, any organization can gain an advantage through preparation. The great differentiator is a true knowledge of environment and options. With this information, you will feel confident even in highly uncertain and volatile circumstances. By knowing what to do when the situation changes or you lose guidance, you and your organization can accomplish nearly anything it chooses to undertake.