Innovative Leader Development: Evaluation of the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Adaptive Leader Program
Nov 19, 2014
The U.S. Army's shift from a doctrine of "command and control" to "mission command" calls for adaptable soldiers and leaders — individuals who can rapidly recognize changes in the environment, identify critical elements in unfamiliar situations with less-than-perfect information, and facilitate timely action to meet new requirements, all while under considerable stress. The principles of mission command also emphasize leaders who value a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach and who develop teams that can anticipate and manage transition.
In this context, the Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) designed and implemented the Asymmetric Warfare Adaptive Leader Program (AWALP) — a ten-day course to enhance adaptability in leaders and promote innovative solutions in training for and conducting unified land operations. The course design is based on a theory of adaptive performance that posits eight dimensions of such performance, such as solving problems creatively, dealing with changing or ambiguous situations, interpersonal adaptability, cultural adaptability, and making decisions under stress. Although much Army training focuses on standardized procedures for accomplishing tasks, AWALP places more emphasis on an outcomes approach, focusing on the results the commander intends to achieve. This approach encourages trainees to take the initiative to adjust actions to adapt to the situation, which, in turn, requires independent thinking and problem solving. Thus, AWALP exemplifies mission command principles for both course content and how the course is taught.
RAND Arroyo Center evaluated AWALP (using data from 104 students enrolled in three AWALP courses in 2013), addressing multiple aspects of individual and team adaptive performance and identifying potential areas for improvement in AWALP curriculum and delivery. The RAND Arroyo Center team also provided a set of instruments and protocols to foster ongoing assessment and improvement in AWALP and in other courses or events that include adaptability training.
The evaluation used multiple measures of adaptive performance — including piloting new ones — to assess a range of training outcomes. The evaluation assessed reactions to the course — satisfaction with course content, design, and delivery. It also assessed changes in attitudes and learning using pretraining and posttraining surveys and tests, respectively. Researchers also developed a measure to assess adaptability at the team level for practical exercises, using both the students and guides as raters of team adaptive performance. The measure required raters to assess whether the dimensions of adaptive performance were required in each of three exercises and to rate the team's performance on the dimensions. Finally, the evaluation assessed perceived transfer performance — how training results in payoffs to the organization — by conducting telephone interviews with AWALP graduates and their supervisors to assess how graduates apply AWALP principles on the job and the longer-term impact of the course on adaptability behavior and attitudes.
Overall, the results of this evaluation provide evidence of AWALP success across a range of measures. Table 1 highlights key findings by outcomes.
|Reactions to AWALP||
|Attitudes Toward Adaptability||
|Knowledge About Course Concepts||
|Perceived Transfer of Training||
Students had few recommended improvements to AWALP, but other evaluation results point to ways to improve AWALP and the future evaluation of the course. Table 2 summarizes key recommendations.
|Improvements to AWALP||
|Ongoing Evaluation of AWALP||
|Future Evaluation of AWALP||
For related efforts by the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to train adaptability, the RAND Arroyo Center team proposed two options for expanding the AWALP approach. One option is to increase the number of students receiving training, either by increasing throughput in the current course or by continuing AWG's efforts to stand up local versions of AWALP by training local trainers through mobile training teams. Another way to disseminate AWALP more broadly is to incorporate adaptability principles into existing professional military education courses, such as advanced leader courses for noncommissioned officers. And while AWALP provides a starting point for training soldiers to work in and lead teams, TRADOC can support mission command principles further by creating a follow-on course that expands instruction at the team level, addressing such topics as shared mental models, transactive memory systems, team trust, and team facilitation.
The shift in Army doctrine from command and control to mission command calls for profound changes in leader and team conduct, with a concomitant transformation in training. AWG's successful development and implementation of AWALP exemplifies mission command principles in terms of both the content of the course and how it is taught. AWALP, supported by systematic course evaluation, provides a promising approach for the Army as it seeks to further develop adaptable leaders and teams.