Exploring Tours of Duty Inside Companies

Tours of duty are often associated with the military, but as it turns out, the authors of “The Alliance” address the idea that “tours of duty” can exist and thrive inside workplaces.

To briefly highlight the concept: regardless of whether you’re joining a company, shifting into a new role internally, or operating in a senior role, all team members should be on a tour of duty that is a specific, finite mission the employee and employer agree on. This function is a specific mission and realistic timeline.

If the concept seems strange, it’s one that’s been applied in something many of us are familiar with: sports.

The “tour of duty” in the NBA:

The Miami Heat (before LeBron jumped to the Cleveland Cavaliers again) embody the concept of people coming together for a finite period of time to complete a specific mission: win NBA titles. They accomplished this goal twice — mission accomplished.

In the workplace, The Alliance encourages companies to embrace this philosophy —people aren’t going to stay on your “team” forever, so you might as well rally around some goals that can realistically be accomplished while you all are a unit.

The “tour of duty” with the coaching carousel of college football:

College football coaching also has a well documented “tour of duty” history — now more than ever. A graduate assistant (new hire) gets his foot in the door however possible. After getting a grip on what path to pursue (offense / defense / strength coach etc.) he may have to hop to another school to become a position coach (manager/director). After a few years at position coach (and possibly a few different schools), they may get called to a new school to become a coordinator (VP), and may hop around a few different schools in this role as well. Finally they may get a head coaching gig (CEO), but likely at a Sun Belt school to polish their chops as a leader. Then, several years down the line they may get the “dream job” coaching in the SEC / Big Ten.

We can all think about our own careers in line with the coaching carousel. Some people may be content as a manager at a company or as an expert in a specific field. Others may take the more ambitious route of scratching / clawing / hustling their way to the top. The top looks different to almost everyone, which is why some people are happy as a small business owner (Division III head coach) vs. CEO of a Fortune 500 company (head coach of a dynasty).

Regardless of what tours we work towards, we rarely stay in the same jobs / organizations now for more than 4.4 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is important to strive for what realistic goals are achievable in the time given for a team to collaborate, as it keeps all of us more authentic and striving for mutual benefit when working together.

-Max Farrell

To read more about the Tour of Duty concept, check out this slide show.

Originally posted in the Des Moines Business Record blog