David Silverman, Founder and CEO of CrossLead, Co-Author of “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, Former Navy Seal Officer

Episode #061: CrossLead: Scaling the Adaptability of Small Teams to the Enterprise Level

How can organizations leverage and scale the agile and nimble nature of small high performing teams at the enterprise level? Tune in to this week’s featured Team Coaching Zone podcast with David Silverman–Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CrossLead–to discover some insights and answers to this fundamental question of our times.

In this episode David shares his life-long journey being on and working with high performing teams beginning with an early interest in competitive swimming and water polo; to becoming a Navy SEAL officer where he served on numerous combat deployments over 12 years with distinction; to bringing back insights learned from transforming the US counter-terrorism effort against Al-Qaeda that could then be applied in the business world; to co-authoring the book “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World” with General Stanley McChrystal, Chris Fussell, and Tantum Collins; and to founding the firm CrossLead in 2016 that provides an enterprise solution combining a proven framework, software and services to empower organizations to thrive in today’s complex environment.

Additional themes explored in the episode include: the shift from the industrial age to the knowledge age and now to the digital age; the disruptive forces and adaptive challenges faced by today’s organizations and how they can be overcome through scaling nimble agile teams on an enterprise level; some of the elements of successful teaming gleaned from the 10,000+ hours in becoming a Navy SEAL and working on the SEAL teams; the CrossLead framework, software and services and how they are being applied in organizations; and more.

David shares a number of stories and lessons learned throughout the podcast that apply to all organizations at this time of disruption that brings both great challenge as well as opportunity. This is an episode that all team coaches will surely not want to miss!

Listen Now


Resources Mentioned

  1. http://www.crosslead.com
  2. McChrystal, S., Collins, T., Silverman, D., Fussell, C. (2015). Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

Listen to the Episode:






Part 1 – Getting to know the Guest: David Silverman


  • Founder and CEO of CrossLead http://www.crosslead.com
  • One of the authors of: McChrystal, S., Collins, T., Silverman, D., Fussell, C. (2015). Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.
  • David is responsible for the success, growth, profitability, and strategic direction of the company. He is also actively involved in client engagements and business development.
  • David’s journey to the founding of CrossLead began in January 2011, when he and a group of like-minded friends sought to reinvent the way the world does business in today’s dynamic environment. Based on their collective service in the United States Armed Forces, they devised a holistic leadership and management solution called CrossLead. The solution is designed to empower leaders, teams, and organizations to scale the adaptability of elite small teams to the enterprise level.
  • David went on to co-found McChrystal Group with General Stanley McChrystal, and led the company as CEO. Through David’s leadership and vision at CrossLead, the CrossLead framework is being successfully implemented in numerous Fortune 500 companies.
  • A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David served in the US Navy as a SEAL Officer for 12 years. He is an experienced and combat decorated veteran with six operational deployments worldwide, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia.
  • Founded CrossLead in January 2016

Journey into Teaming

  • Early passion for teams; interests in competitive swimming, water polo; competed on national
  • Goal in going to the Naval academy was to become a Navy Seal Officer and be part of a high performing organization
  • Becoming a Navy Seal was transformative and fighting against Al Qaeda generated lots of leadership lessons about the modern world –> inspired David to bring back some of the lessons to apply in business
  • Teaming within the Navy Seals
    • Replicated some of his early experiences being on high performing teams
    • Key principle: Differentiated by the selection process which was very long and arduous
    • No one person is more important than the group
    • Common purpose
    • Trust between teammates
    • To survive and be successful depends on being able to rely on each others
    • Shared consciousness: a high density of interactions that helps the team become as one
    • Empowering every individual to maximize their skillets to respond to a changing environment
    • What differentiates a high performing Ranger, SEAL, or Delta Force Operator is that they are so strong in their fundamentals, confidence in each other that they can react faster than the environment throws problems at them
    • Forged together through more than 10,000 hours of skills development and practice
    • Balancing and leveraging each other’s talents

Transition from Navy Seal Officer to Founding CrossLead

  • Observed how much performance management in companies is decoupled from senior management’s responsibilities and that it is focused on the individual manager and employee relationships (which is important) however not so much a focus on the team or organization level of analysis.
  • Four important organizational competencies that create the conditions for high performing teams: common purpose, trust, shared consciousness, empowerment (clear roles and responsibilities)
  • As teams get bigger they tend to naturally create silos and efficient and effectiveness decreases–specifically in the areas of shared consciousness and empowerment piece
  • Transition in organizations over last 150 years: industrial economy to knowledge economy to a digital economy
  • Technology has been advancing so rapidly everything now in the digital environment is networked – everyone now has access to information and can make decisions at their level if you can create the conditions
  • The people closest to the problems need to have the information (wisdom of the crowd) and authority to make decisions
  • Companies are failing faster than before; smaller more nimble groups are the disruptors; only way you can move at that pace is to empower people to make decisions – you can’t micro management
  • Have to turn the information pyramid upside down where its not controlled anymore
  • Role of leadership: leadership and followership; need to be able to toggle and switch; boundary less leadership; senior leadership role is to be a like a “gardener”…cultivate the ecosystem
  • Challenge faced in counterinsurgency work in Iraq was how to scale up small nimble teams on a large level: people are social by nature, they want to be part of groups
  • Tribe – most groups/teams like winning; demonstrate transparency that it is going to take the group’s collective action to succeed
  • Creating cross-team collaboration achieved through representation – taking some of the best team members and putting them on other teams; breaking “tribes” up and reforming them into other teams to create new bonds that transcend typical silos and functional responsibilities; helps create “perspective” and also helps skill folks up
  • Speed is decisive: how fast you learn and adapt; have to break down your own hubris

Part 2 – CrossLead Approach

  • Around 2004 was sitting around with another Navy SEAL officer and a Marine and were having some conversations about their experiences in combat.
  • Colleague asked a powerful question: Every generation who serves in this country’s history in times of need learns invaluable lessons and then they come back and they apply the lessons to make society better.  What is going to be our lesson and our contribution?
  • Key lesson: we transformed an industrial age type organization based on 19th century management principles into an organization that could compete in a 21st century digital age with an adversary who was leveraging the digital context
  • Lessons of agility and adapting to a complex world on an enterprise level applicable to all businesses: not unique just to the military
  • Changing the way you internally communicate and make decisions: radical transparency, learning as quickly as possible, inverting the leadership decision making model on its head
  • A couple of clients in the technology sector who were doing agile software development said what you guys are doing are applying similar principles; how can we take these principles and apply them to how management runs the business and not just develop software
  • CrossLead is agile for enterprise – a natural evolution of 21st century leadership and management practices/requirements
  • You need to be able to merge solutions that are being presented but the environment: how to drive the market than just being dependent on it
  • CrossLead’s offering:
    • Originally a management consulting practice – implementations were like 3 to 5 years
    • Learned that many of the components of the process could be digitized especially in the diagnosis and discovery phase; how to map out the key influencers and teams in the organization as well as the blockers
    • Maintaining alignment is the major challenge: digitizing people’s strategies and visualizing linkages between operating plans; goal to create self-awareness on the enterprise level
    • Communicating across different teams based on the various plans underway
    • Empowering everyone to become a leader by accessing the information
    • Through the technology they will be able to get at the causality of what drives team performance
    • Framework, Software, Services
    • Culture shift: try to align with organization’s operating cadence; have to share and collaborate and create transparency; you don’t know who needs to know the information so you need to open it up; having leaders more comfortable as “gardeners” to create the ecosystem; a natural occurring cultural shift especially among millennials; challenge is getting the high level senior management to shift their mindsets
  • Story of Application: from Tech sector
    • Have worked pretty much in every type of business sector
    • Tech company that had grown through acquisition and had a range of products that didn’t work together; not a seamless experience for clients across the ecosystem
    • Needed to break down silos so that the the holistic experience for the client would be better
    • Took some time to find the key metrics that would drive behaviors
    • Result was it dramatically increased their speed to market and holistic experience for the clients
    • Came in at senior leadership team level, brought in the heads of the product lines
    • Needed the leadership team to model the behavior
    • Begins with an organizational diagnostic  (agile and adaptable) and mapping of key influencers followed by some team building and alignment sessions
    • Key is to get a baseline model in place and then trust that they will continually iterate to get to the right thing
    • Blend of consulting, team building, diagnostic assessment, facilitation, coaching
    • CrossLead platform helps maintain alignment continuously
    • Engagements typically take about 3 months to get started, by 6 months the leadership and team begins to internalize and afterwards some ongoing quarterly alignment sessions; align with organization’s existing operations cadence; move more to a coaching model
    • Get a subscription service for the license to the software
  • Biggest Challenges Trying to Apply CrossLead
    • Key differentiation is engagement of senior team
    • Nothing complicated about CrossLead and being an agile organization: the hardest part is the discipline of doing it every day, requires commitment; coaching to drive accountability and goal attainment

Part 3 – Resources, Parting Words, and Contacting CrossLead

  • http://www.crosslead.com
  • McChrystal, S., Collins, T., Silverman, D., Fussell, C. (2015). Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.
  • The story of CrossLead is really one about service and bringing back the lessons from the counter-insurgency work in the military to help organizations and the economy and nation become stronger.
  • The key to creating high performing teams and enterprises is creating the environment where everyone can be a leader: giving them the context, the wisdom and the ability to make decisions.

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