Book Review: Flat Army by Dan Pontefract

Flat Army by Don Ponterfact - Book Cover
Flat Army
Genre: Leadership

Paperback | 336 pp. | Elevate | | 2nd Edition
Buy on Amazon
4.0 rating

Flat Army is a book by Dan Pontefract, originally appeared in 2013 and reprinted in 2018. Focused on the concept of Connected Leadership, I read this book already a few years ago, but have now re-read it as I was trying to recover some memories about it. In this book, the author makes the case that most organisations are not engaging and producing at full capacity. Simply said, companies and leaders are not fully utilizing their employees.

It’s a question of maturity; leaders cannot fathom the loss of control, yet paradoxically, it’s the more creative and less hierarchical leader who is, in fact, empowering his or her team and getting better results

Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

His focus idea is that managers and leaders need to connect more, to be able to really extract the best value from their teams. This connection translates into more relationship with the teams, and thus gest into developing the attribute of flat as a way to diminish the organizational hierarchy which often limits the connectivity. In a way, this book is one of the first that advocates for fewer management levels to improve productivity.

The book starts with a strong case to start talking about connectedness and develops a brief history of why organisations and managers became rigid. Chapter 3 introduces the concept of the Connected Leader and the philosophy of Flat Army.

The Connected Leader

He defines the concept of open leadership:

The act of engaging others to influence and execute a coordinated and harmonious conclusion.

Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

He then introduces the Connected Leader Chasm (see Figure 1), in the form of a 2×2 matrix. The Connected Leader is essentially able to create a Harmonious relationship by being open as a leader and developing an open team.

Fig. 1: The Connected Leader Chasm. Source: Don Ponterfact, Flat Army
Fig. 1: The Connected Leader Chasm. Source: Don Ponterfact, Flat Army

The Flat Army Philosophy

He then introduces the Flat Army Philosophy, which is composed of the following elements:

  • Connected Leader Attributes
  • Participative Leader Framework
  • Collaborative Leader Action Model
  • Pervasive Learning
  • Collaboration Technologies.
Fig. 2: The Flat Army Philosophy. Source: Don Ponterfact, Flat Army
Fig. 2: The Flat Army Philosophy. Source: Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

Each of the components is briefly described, and many examples are brought into the book through various case studies from actual companies and leaders.

The Connected Leader Attributes

Chapter 4 to 6 he focuses on the 15 Connected Leader Attributes.

Becoming a Connected Leader

Becoming attributes are the installation of humanity into a leader.

  • trusting
  • involving
  • empathizing
  • developing
  • communicating

Being a Connected Leader

Being attributes are the behaviours that ensure the leader can effectively work with the team to accomplish goals.

  • analyzing
  • deciding
  • delivering
  • cooperating
  • clowning

Beyond a Connected Leader

Beyond attributes are the behaviours that continue a process of transformation in the connected leader.

  • coaching
  • measuring
  • adapting
  • exploring
  • bettering

Each of the attributes of Connected Leadership is analyzed through real-life examples, with a few tools that are offered for the development of each one. Interesting to see how many of these align with some skills we have already seen and examined: Curiosity, Authenticity, Being Deliberately Developmental, Learning Agility, Decision Making, Resilience.

The Participative Leader Framework

Chapter 7 focuses on the Participative Leader Framework. The author first discusses the importance of a network and how it can benefit the organization. He then talks about the importance of nurturing the network through the relationship of consuming and contributing. This nurturing needs to be steady and continuous.

It must be continuous; it must occur with relative frequency such that knowledge, information and ideas continue to be given and gained, networks steadily increase in size, our personal engagement stays on an upward trajectory, and lastly our performance ability prospers.

Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

Pontefract links in both the Professional Network and the Personal Network and creates a representation where these develop based on four key assets: Authenticity, Recirporcity, Education and Continuity.

Fig. 3: The Participative Leader Framework. Source: Dan Pontefract, Flat Army
Fig. 3: The Participative Leader Framework. Source: Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

It is incumbent upon leaders to carry out two actions: commit time to building your own direct professional network at work; and encourage and help your team to do the same

Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

The author focuses on different ways to create and maintain the network and focuses a lot on the usage of technologies. Considering the fact that the book is written in 2013, it’s very interesting to see is rather a positive view of these, especially as he forecasted interaction technologies and internal social network to be key in the development of networks.

The Collaborative Leader Action Model

Chapter 8 focuses on the  Collaborative Leader Action Model and is a key chapter in understanding how connected leadership and all of the above links to an engaged organisation. The author links ideally with the concept of wirearchy developed by Jon Husband. An organization that permits information, data and knowledge to freely flow throughout the organization can become an engaged organization.

Book Review: Flat Army by Dan Pontefract 1
Fig. 4: The CLAM. Source: Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

It is all about developing an inclusive environment from conception through completion, through a continuous circle of development of collaboration and added value.

The Flat Army concept is not about mutual decision making throughout an organization; rather, it is about becoming more engaged, productive, connected and collaborative so that employees feel part of the equation and not simply numbers in a database. Employees are not the ultimate decision makers but they need to be part of the process

Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

This is also were Danon Pontefract falls short from being truly revolutionary. He continues to give the full decision-making power to management, in a logic that is somewhat opposite at that we’ve seen in Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc, or on that is focused by Corporate Rebels. However, what’s interesting is that with this cycle, he creates an involuntary link with the concept of Employee Experience. It is through the constant motion of the experience, in the relationship with managers, that value is created. Which is a core feature of Connected Leadership.

Pervasive Learning

Chapter nine is the one that convinced me more when I originally read the book. Learning at the speed of need was at that time an almost revolutionary concept, as it opposed the traditional view on Training back at the time. Up to the point that the book was heavily debated during that year’s ASTD Conference. He suggests implementing the concept of Pervasive Learning.

Pervasive Learning: The switch from a “training is an event” fixed mindset to “learning is a collaborative, continuous, connected and community-based” growth mindset (Dan Pontefract, Flat Army)

Finally, chapter 10 focuses on the usage of technology as a tool to become a better connected leader. This is the chapter that aged more, as some of the tools are not relevant anymore. However, he developed a concept that is even more relevant today than it probably was 7 years go: continuous partial attention.

Proper discipline and techniques must be taught and learned such that employees do not become addicted to such technologies nor […] do they fall into the potentially negative vortex of continuous partial attention

Dan Pontefract, Flat Army

Conclusion: Flat Army’s Leadership Model.

I enjoyed the book when I first read it, and I enjoyed it back now. To a certain extent, the author has been anticipating the request to a new business and leadership model, more focused on creating value through connections. In some parts, the book becomes a bit repetitive, and there is a bit of an exaggerated focus on creating a model for everything.

Overall the key messages related to Connected Leadership are, however, very clear, and I believe his focus can be truly beneficial for many leaders also today.

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Flat Army
Genre: Leadership | Rating: 4/5
By Dan Pontefract
Paperback | 336 pp. | Elevate | 26/01/2016 | 2nd Edition
ISBN: 9781773270593
Buy on Amazon

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