Operating Rhythm

Leader Manual


An “operating rhythm” is the heartbeat of any organization or team. It defines the cadence by which the collective communicates, makes decisions, and executes. A healthy operating rhythm enables organizations to learn faster, make decisions at the right time, and synchronize execution activities across teams. This leader manual will give you the tools to assess your current operating rhythm and considerations for making the necessary changes to drive greater efficiencies within your self, your team, and your organization.


As a Navy SEAL with multiple deployments to various countries globally, I’ve learned the importance of maintaining an operating pace. Whether running multiple operations a night for months on end or back in DC working at the Pentagon, the ”operating rhythm” is the foundation for personal, team, and organizational execution. Although you may not get to dictate the pace of your rhythm, adding a disciplined foundation to that pace makes it more manageable and less reactive to the environment. However, there are times when you can afford to change the pace. Sometimes you need to push the gas and ramp it up, while you need to rest and recover other times.

A healthy operating rhythm will enable your organization to learn faster, make timely decisions, and synchronize the execution of activities across teams. Whether you come from Special Operations like me or work for a government office, a Fortune 500 company, or a small startup, I think you will find tremendous value in implementing the approaches we outline in the coming pages. There are three principles I want to outline before you
begin; which we will cover in-depth:

  • Rhythm design should reflect three levels of planning – strategic, operational, and tactical.
  • Your operating pace should reflect the speed of the environment in which you
    operate; be conscious of your “time horizons.”

  • Intentional reflection (i.e., rest) drives constant improvement.

Good luck with your journey. Feel free to reach out to me directly with questions.

– David Silverman

Operating Rhythm Principles

Principle 1:
The design of your rhythm should reflect all three levels of planning and execution – strategic, operational, and tactical.
A healthy operating rhythm connects feedback loops across the planning continuum.

Strive for balance; you don’t want your team’s outlook to be biased too much toward the short-term or long-term.

Principle 2:
Your operating pace should reflect the speed of the environment in which you operate.

A team rarely finds themselves operating too fast, but we often see teams moving slower than the world around them. When you consider how your team operates (within your immediate span of control), you should consider if your operating pace is in line with your environment. It is appropriate to meet relatively infrequently in very stable environments because the environment is not changing quickly. Heads-down execution poses a little risk when the operational environment is static.

On the other side of the spectrum, in a highly unpredictable environment, teams need to meet to ensure they are regularly executing in lockstep. Consider an unexpected disaster recovery situation as an example, the situation changes fluidly, and the plans must be too. As the leader, you know your team’s environment better than anyone. Ensure the cadence at which you are meeting aligns with your intent.

Principle 3:
Intentional reflection drives constant improvement. Opportunities to learn should be built into your routine. You must ensure your operating rhythm includes a regular point of reflection on how you operate. Whether you do this as an individual or a team lead, you must equally evaluate all opinions and factors, uncover the root causes of each problem identified, and commit to behavior change.

After every operation in the Navy SEALS, the teams would conduct an After-Action Review (AAR). The goal of this meeting was to discuss what the plan was and how the actual operation varied from it. This exercise encouraged the team to constantly reflect on how they operated and what could be done differently in the future.

Many teams do these after significant events or keep them on the calendar to stop and reflect. As a leader, you play an essential role in this session. Your behavior may dictate how comfortable your team feels sharing. Leave your rank at the door and encourage others to speak before you do. If you find yourself saying more than listening, stop. This is a valuable chance for you to get feedback from your team. Finally, please work with your team to identify necessary behavior changes and hold yourself and your team accountable for them.

Characteristics of Ineffective Operating Rhythm

Operating rhythms of the past were optimized for traditional “Waterfall” models of project management; which are too slow for today’s environment.

There are many symptoms you may experience personally:

• You feel overwhelmed, and your calendar reflects that.
• You attend too many meetings that feel redundant or fail to address the “so what?”
• Your to-do list of priorities is longer than the amount of available time you have
• You find yourself consistently revisiting past decisions or repeating yourself
• You feel drained.

There are many symptoms you may experience as an organization:

• Collaboration and decision-making are not fast enough to maximize success
• The culture of information sharing is on a “need to know” basis
• Misaligned information flow between forums.
• Nonexistent or unused forum standards or expectations
• Improper leadership and participant behaviors in meetings
• Lack of alignment to a strategic plan
• Deliverables are inconsistent with current customer/stakeholder requirements
• Feedback at any stage of your product lifecycle is highly disruptive
• Projects are chronically late, and costs overrun
• Too many competing “high priority” projects

Characteristics of a CrossLead Operating Rhythm

The modern digital economy is complex and necessitates a fundamental shift in how leaders and teams operate to remain effective. A CrossLead Operating Rhythm prioritizes resilient adaptation to changing circumstances over prediction.

This is what it looks and feels like when your personal rhythm is optimized:

• You see consistent progress on big projects.
• You have free time built into your calendar for critical thinking.
• Your task list is shrinking.
• You have time for personal commitments and activities.
• You feel energized.

This is what it looks and feels like when your organization’s rhythm is optimized:

• Individuals & Interactions prioritized even/over processes and tools.
• Working products and services prioritized even/over comprehensive documentation.
• Customer collaboration prioritized even/over contract negotiation.
• Responding to change prioritized even/over following a plan.

Leader Behaviors

As a leader, your role is to create an environment for organizational learning.

  • Facilitate crosstalk. This is not a report “out” or “up” but rather for the attendees to share and learn.
  • Explain your logic. When sharing an insight or hypothesis, preface with your thought process (i.e., “because of this observation or data-point, I believe x”).
  • Be transparent. Open and candid participation supports a productive dialogue.
  • Connect people. When an individual or team in one part of the organization highlights a risk or opportunity, connect that individual with the right team member to learn from their experience.
  • Highlight desired behaviors. Encourage contribution that supports the goals of the meeting.
  • Be trusting. Specify when information is confidential or close-hold and share until you are uncomfortable.
  • Be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to identify problems and ask for help. If asked a question where you don’t know the answer, honestly state that you don’t know and will follow up.
  • Prepare. Review posted materials in advance, know your data, and be prepared to offer “hot off the press” breaking news or trends.
  • Maintain sensitivity. Not all information or topics are appropriate for a receptive audience. Legal matters, personal information, acquisition targets, etc.

Personal Rhythm

Define Success for Yourself

Now that you understand the principles of a CrossLead operating rhythm, let’s begin to improve your rhythm. Start by listing out 1-2 modest goals for the next 3-months:

Incorporate New Goals

List one small action you can take for each goal this week.

List how much time you would like to dedicate to each goal this week, the frequency of your new habit, and when you will perform the habit (recommend starting your time increments small):

Finally, mark a time on your calendar at the end of this week when you will review how you performed against your goals and revise your plan for the following week:

Map Your Network

After you’ve written out your goals for improving your operating rhythm, next, we recommend a white-board exercise. Start by writing your name in the middle. Next, list out all your direct reports or people within your team (list them below your name). Second, list any supporting business partners who interact with your team/group. Third, list your boss’ name above yours, then map out all of their direct reports (i.e., your peers) laterally next to your name. Finally, map any relevant connections in your boss network that influence your organization. Your network map may look like the image below:

Network map diagram

Consider Current Priorities & Time Allocation

Once you’ve mapped your network, you’ll then want to determine the appropriate allocation of time to spend with each of the constituencies in your network. Begin by listing out the constituencies (in order of relative priority) with the desired time allocation (%) for each group.

Assess Your Calendar

Once you’ve determined your priorities and the associated time allocations, next, you’ll want to analyze the last 1-3 months from your calendar to estimate your current time allocation towards your desired time buckets (you don’t need to be specific). Compare the outcome of the two charts to see where improvements can be made. Example priorities may include client meetings, team meetings, 1:1 meetings, lateral department meetings, travel, personal, etc.

Team Operating Cycle

Reflecting on the three principles of operating rhythm, a team’s operating cycle should have a recurring meeting for each level of planning and execution – tactical, operational, and strategic. The frequency of each meeting should reflect the operating pace relevant to the environment. Finally, intentional reflection should be incorporated. Below are
three team-based meetings we believe should be standard in any team setting.

Operating Rhythm Design

Below is an example operating rhythm matrix. You can complete your own matrix here. Consider each of the following categories when completing your matrix:

  • Ownership: Do I own, influence, or support this meeting as a team leader?
  • Frequency: Is this daily, weekly, monthly, ad-hoc or on another regular cadence?
  • Purpose: what is the primary reason this meeting exists?
  • Rating: use scale from 1 to 10 (1 = zero value; 10 = exceptional) to rate effectiveness.
Title Ownership Frequency Purpose Rating
Annual Review Support Yearly Budget planning and strategic review of strategies 7
Cross-Functional Meeting Influence Monthly Review in-progress projects, current priorities, and new developments 5
Account Investor Call Support Monthly Brief investors on returns of current investments 8
Business Review Own Quarterly Review previous quarter's outcomes and plan for next quarter 3
Short-Term Planning Own Weekly Discuss roadmap and development schedule 5
Direct Report(s) Weekly 1:1 Own Weekly Discuss current priorities, roadblocks, atmospherics and developmental goals 3
Standup Own Daily Synchronize activities and daliy priorities across the team 8

Meeting Standards

Now that you’ve finalized your meeting list, it’s time to build consistent standards for each meeting that you own. Consider the following categories to include in your matrix:

  • Purpose: list the primary reason why the meeting exists.
  • Format: when does it occur, and how are people expected to participate?
  • Preparation: how are people expected to contribute?
  • Participants: who is mandatory versus optional?
  • Agenda: list recurring and ad-hoc topics.
  • Outputs: what are the action items and next steps?

Meeting Standards

Keystone Forum: Create a shared understanding of the operating environment to increase the rate of learning for multiple teams operating with known interdependencies.


  • When: Mondays (Weekly) 10:00 – 11:15 am (EST)
  • Venue: HQ with VTC from outstations
  • Expectations: Speakers are expected to turn on video. Be aware of muting issues when joining

Preparation Requirements

  • Updates from each presenting team to be completed and collected the Friday before.

  • Updates distributed by Friday EOD. By start of meeting, read ahead expected for primary slides (non-Appendix).


  • Owner: Charlie
  • Meeting Organizer: Julie
  • Attendees: All Teammates
    (Including from Divisions)


  • Leadership Remarks
  • Strategy & Division Updates
  • Functional Team Updates
  • Spotlight Topic – Tom


  • Record of due-outs and decisions made dispersed to invite list from Julie.