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The Structure of the British Army Compared to a Civilian Business Organization
Military life, especially during combat situations, is difficult for the individual who has always been a civilian to imagine. The structure of the organization is rigid, strict control is maintained of all personnel, the management style is historically largely authoritarian, and conditions can be harsh. However, there are always people who volunteer for this service for many reasons. The individual lacks responsibility and wishes to gain it, there is a scarcity of sustainable employment, the promise of adventure awaits the soldier. Other reasons exist, every soldier or sailor has one, but whatever the reason when a person joins the military they soon understand the organization. There is no mystery regarding large goals or minor objectives. The British Army has a unique history and purpose that can be useful to companies that want to survive and remain successful in all endeavors.
The British Army has a history that extends back to pre-Roman times. At that juncture the British Isles contained many tribes whose main objective, much like the native American and Australian aboriginal tribes, was to survive the conquests of opposing tribes in the island. When the Romans arrived they implemented a much more rigid structure and began the tradition of the British military. The island moved from clannish factions over the next several centuries to a solid military structure.
Great Britain designed its modern army after the needs that they saw as an island nation surrounded by enemies. "Britain,…coupled a flair for coalition warfare with a sustained strategy of maritime dominance, refined a policy that combined aggressive economic policies, maritime dominance, and fighting continental opponents by proxy within coalitions…The British used this method to build a force structure around a large, vigorous Navy and a small (by continental standards), but highly professional, expeditionary army" (Kuehn, 2003). The large navy was used to blockade the enemies that could threaten by sea, and the small army was used to fight enemies that threatened empirical gains. Due to this found need, "in the early 19th century, British statesmen created a quasi-tribal regimental system in which officers and enlisted men served together over extended periods of time, rotating between overseas and home assignments" (Cassidy, 2005). This was also in response to a large war with the American colonies which had shown that the old Roman phalanx system of fighting would not work in many cases. The British army went back to the tribal system that had been so successful in the early days of the people on the island.
One issue that the army had was its treatment of soldiers. For "British soldiers in the eighteenth century: enlistments were for life and pay was unsustainably low" (Moran, 1994). This meant that the camps had to have followers to supply the individual soldier with the food and care that a warrior required. However, "throughout British history, its' ill treated, underpaid, and often abused soldiers continually rewrote military tactics with impossible feats of courage. It mattered not how many times the personnel of the Regiment were replaced, it always had its distinct Regimental identity, and was known and feared because of its historical reputation" (Moran, 1994). The British soldier had the reputation around the world of bulldog determination. Many times soldiers fought in a square, facing out, against unbelievable odds. They were able to overcome many enemies by bravery alone.
One facet of this army though was troubling to nations which wished to emulate the style that the British had been so successful with. Thomas Jefferson was trying to build up the American army, and "he was particularly interested in avoiding the worst elements of the British army, which he viewed as dehumanizing and repressive. Although the British army was honored throughout the world for its iron-clad bravery and discipline in battle, Jefferson saw a different image of an organization built for its own edification and expansion over the interests of its citizens" (Turley, 2002). The governors of the army would eventually see this also. Although the British army was respected around the world, the individual soldiers who gained British worldwide dominance continued to be ill treated. Over the years, many improvements were made that would continue the force's position as a leading fighting force into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They have continued in this mode because "British strategy, executed over the long-term, proved remarkably flexible in meeting needs during periods of relative peace and during a sustained global conflict with France; in other words, across the spectrum of conflict" (Kuehn, 2003).
The structure of the modern army mirrors what it became in the early part of the 1800's. Today, "the British Army comprises more than 100,000 full time officers and soldiers in the Regular Army supported by a further 40,000 part-time paid volunteer reservists of the Territorial Army (TA)" (British Army, 2010). This remains much smaller than many of the armies of the world which have been geared for large continental campaigns. The history of the British army is the reason for the success that it has to this day. Since, "the British approach emphasized small-scale instead of large-scale operations; the soldier rather than the system; and small casualties and easy victories instead of prolonged fighting and heavy losses" (Cassidy, 2005), "the British Army has excelled in small-unit, antiguerrilla warfare as they did in other aspects of counterinsurgency. History had given them an army that was relatively small and decentralized and, therefore, ideally suited to such warfare "(Cassidy, 2005). They have also gained as an island world power because "geographical dispersion can coincide with high degree of cohesion, as can be seen from the example of the British army, which remains a very cohesive body in spite of having outposts in Hong Kong and Singapore (Andrzejewski, 1954). This two emphases within the British army, small fighting force and geographic dispersion, have caused it to remain an elite, cohesive unit.
The structure of this military may have had to change in small ways with the times, but it is a model organization that other types of businesses can learn from. There are two avenues of organization at which the British army excels and can teach any other organization how to succeed. These organizational structure itself and the traits that this organization gives the army.
Many organizations have become so linear that the leaders have no idea what the lower level workers need, or, more importantly, how they view the organization. The British army is hierarchical, but there are fewer layers of command. "The organizations within the Army are divided into three types: combat units, combat support units, and combat service support units" (British Army, 2010). This is saying that there are only three divisions within the structure. These three vertical units are broken down into linear organizational divisions. "The command structure of the Army is hierarchical. It has two deployable divisions, each of which is responsible for a number of brigades. Divisions and brigades are referred to as 'formations'. Brigades consist of several 'units', which are regiment or battalion-sized, and which consist of a number of sub-units. Sub-units are generally about 100 personnel strong (British Army, 2010). As can be seen from this quote, there are only four layers of responsibility from the top division commander to the lowest sub-unit. As an example of the above structure, "The key design feature of the Armored Division was two combat commands (brigade-type headquarters) focused on combat functions, and a third brigade-type headquarters focused on reserve and support operations, thus providing flexibility and rapid repositioning and commitment of forces in battle" (Harrison, 1997). This rapid deployment ability is aided by a "military system…directed primarily by an elite group (officers), and military management is vertically integrated" (Turley, 2002). This vertical management style has allowed the British army to remain responsive.
Because the whole army is relatively small, has been developed as all-inclusive teams and has developed cohesiveness among the individual soldiers, they offer an excellent lesson in how to structure a vibrant organization. There are several facets of the army that can be utilized by any organization.
First of all is the fact of "Britain's almost exclusive reliance on professional soldiers instead of draftees" (Cassidy, 2005). This is a professional fighting force. They have trained together, gone on deployments together, and they have accepted the life of a soldier. A draftee, which was a constant necessity in the early British army, is not as dedicated to the cause as someone who signs on and knows what they are getting themselves into. The professionalism of the British army is one reason that they have been such a successful fighting force. Cohen (2000) said "the professionalism of the British Armed Services is widely recognized inside and outside of Britain. Although they have been repeatedly reduced in size and often subjected to considerable "overstretch," they have continued to perform all that the nation has demanded of them." This is a testimony to both the professional attitude of…[continue]
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