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Can your team handle an unfolding crisis? - How are your O.O.D.A Loops?

An unfolding crisis impacts people and teams in interesting ways.

The fear and uncertainty of a crisis invariably triggers the emotional threat systems of the human brain, the limbic system. This impacts performance, decision-making, relationships and your survivability.

Add to any existing concerns the dynamic of now having to work away from one another / working from home and it's a potential recipe for confusion, dislocation, low morale and poor decisions.

Business leaders can learn a great deal from the military in times of crisis (and often vica-versa).

Simple tools and models (such as the OODA Loop we will discuss briefly here) provide insights into how military thinkers will approach surviving in a rapidly changing and competitive environment.

It applies just as easily to business teams as it does to the elite military commanders and teams from where the model itself originated.

Teamwork, leadership and good communications are essential.

Knowing your team's strengths and weaknesses, its biases and how it works under pressure is also mission-critical to handling the pressure and making the best decisions. We have actually just rolled out some ONLINE TEAM BUILDING tools that help remote working teams do just these things.

Having a better OODA Loop when dealing with any threat gives you what the military calls "decision superiority" and the ability to seize and hold the initiative. Having a poor OODA Loop means that you will be dancing to the tune of the crisis more than you need to and unless you can quickly regain the initiative, be set upon a downward spiral towards defeat.

So, what is an OODA Loop (or OODA cycle / The Boyd Cycle as it's also known)?

And no - it’s not a new breakfast cereal, a component of primate DNA or a radio part by the way. It’s a model created by a military strategist called John Boyd who strongly influenced military approaches to command decision-making and surviving in rapidly changing competitive environments.Winning in any competitive environment whether it be commercial, military or even on a sports field is often defined by your OODA Loops, and how long or short they are.

He was a former Fighter Pilot who worked with the US Air Force at a strategic level to help define why some Pilots were better enabled to win dogfights than others, even when operating inferior aircraft. Ultimately he felt success was best defined by the psychology of how they worked through what he termed an "OODA Loop / Cycle".

Its four major components that are considered by an individual or a good team are Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

At a superficial level it's quite a simple concept, but the full OODA cycle that Boyd himself illustrated and explored was actually quite complex and fluid in its dynamics. It accounted for that fact that multiple inputs from external unfolding scenarios would influence the loop, create new loops etc.The OODA cycle was gradually extrapolated to team dynamics and defined how they worked though unfolding scenarios under pressure.

The human factor is mission critical here, and how well or poorly your team understand one-another's strengths and weaknesses under pressure (and the accompanying cognitive biases that will creep in with them) will determine how well you proceed.

In simple terms the four major elements of the OODA Loop / Cycle are...


Situational awareness provides you with observations from the unfolding situation or crisis (whether military or commercial), essentially what it is that you need to react to. There is never perfect information, but the higher quality it is the better.

You have to make sure it’s as accurate as possible but you cannot surrender to paralysis by analysis by chasing perfect information if the time constraints do not allow for it.

"Perfect is the enemy of good" as the saying goes.

Volume of information needs to be sifted and weighted for quality and relevance in careful balance with how much time you have before actual actions are required. Facts, experience and direct knowledge of your surroundings are very useful indeed, but some assumptions based on experience may need to be made to fill in gaps in real time information flowing to you.

This raw information can cascade in from many sources including your people, the market, the media etc, essentially anything that's relevant to arriving at a best possible decision and successful action.

It is important to capture and rate all sources of information that may time permit for significance and accuracy before the next stage. Some concurrent orientation to incoming information may be possible for a good team, but it is also critical to allow time for proper analysis in a distinct next phase for unbiased comparison.

Planning, briefing and finally actions need to be based upon the best possible decision.


Now you start to process the raw information from the unfolding situation with more discrimination. Consider as many potential options as time permits to determine how best to proceed with an optimal course of action.

This is where the team projects its collective thinking styles, skills and experience (its “Team DNA” as Sabre refers to it) into the equation. It’s also where personality clashes, ego, poor communication, agendas and task overload can come into play and blow apart your OODA Loop.

If teams are not disciplined and aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, even a team that might look great on paper can blow it here. Teams can become bogged down in this stage to unnecessarily lengthen the entire OODA cycle and arrive at less than optimal decisions and actions.

Cognitive biases, fear and poor teamwork lead to critical information being missed or misinterpreted. Effective leadership and understanding the dynamics of the team enables ideas and options to be processed more efficiently. Leadership and teamwork are vital factors to give you a truly winning OODA loop.

We favour tools like the Belbin Team Role model to help measure how a team will perform under pressure during their real world OODA loops.


If your Situational Awareness has been effective and ongoing, you will have captured the best possible information. Your team will have oriented as well as the available time has permitted to help develop an accurate appreciation of the situation.

Based upon timely analysis the best course of action can be decided upon. If time permits multiple courses of action and contingencies will have been developed to better inform the approach actually chosen, and also to remain up your sleeve to work with in the event of a need to change approaches.

The military uses a variety of tools for course of action analysis to ensure that over thinking, bias, fear or laziness does not interfere with selecting the best course of action.


You now act upon the team's best possible decision, and execute a well considered good plan in a timely manner.

New OODA loops will continue to flow from your actions as they unfold, and indeed will have arisen concurrently from other unfolding situations during this process. Multiple OODA Loops co-exist in competitive environments adding to the complexity of the situation for a team.

This demands a good decision-making process for the team to survive, not to mention goo decisive leadership and fluid communication.

The relative time and quality with which a leader or a team passes through these four stages, defines your OODA Loop and the quality of the outcomes arising from it.

Boyd himself created the model by defining how the fighter pilot who most effectively managed these steps in aerial combat would ultimately prevail. The military still defines gaining or losing the initiative in terms of "we got inside their OODA Loop" or the dreaded "they have got inside of ours".

You simply have to get within the OODA Loop of an unfolding crisis with "relative speed" to drive the situation the way you want it to go. Sometimes you may even want to slow it down to create disequilibrium.

This enables you to drive the situation, progressively make quicker and better quality decisions and to keep driving the situation. If you can shorten your OODA loop, whilst keeping the quality of the decisions good, you can ultimately shape the situation far better than if just 'rolling with the punches'.

Technology can be a double edged sword here.

Technology when used positively as an enabler / force multiplier and can help to shorten and / or enhance the quality of an OODA Loop. If technology is not quickly and properly mastered, or if people become mere slaves to it, and overly dependant upon the technology it can stifle human initiative.

Good old fashioned human initiative can best solve most real time complex problems, technology is thus a tool, not the total solution. The results can be disastrous if this balance is skewed.

Understanding at depth your natural "Team Role Behaviours" and having an awareness of the stage of development your team is in, will help refine and improve how you work through an OODA loop together.

What’s a good, or a bad example of an OODA Loop for your team?


We can help people and teams understand how to improve their OODA Loops and to become more competitive. See our ONLINE TEAM BUILDING options for more information or contact us:

1300 731 381 or

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