In an effort to improve trust and solidarity within the U.S. Army, 100 of the newest junior enlisted and officers from all Army components arrived at West Point to address the issues Soldiers from diverse backgrounds go through during the 2021 Headquarters of the Department of the Army’s People First Task Force’s Solarium event from March 15-19 at Eisenhower Hall.
Soldiers were split into nine teams, with moderators and subject matter experts, to share their perspectives through open discussions on specific problems affecting the Army today. Each group was tasked to discover methods to provide senior leaders to adapt policies that influence significant change. Subsequently, the nine teams were given three different sets of problems. Three groups, out of the nine teams, fell under one problem set and were tasked with finding a solution, Eric Lin, an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, said.
“The big problem areas that Soldiers tackled are racism and extremism, which feel like two separate things, but they are in the same category,” Lin said. “Then you have sexual assault and harassment (another category), and finally you have suicide prevention.”
Lin and Col. Todd Woodruff, an instructor and director of the Eisenhower Leader Development program at West Point, worked together to outline a process the Soldiers would follow throughout the event, based on the training methods taught in an ELDP course, enabling Soldiers to create a solution. The two instructors taught a course in the ELDP program known as ‘hacking for defense’ where students are given a problem set that is prevalent in the Army that they need to solve with a limited amount of time, Lin said.
“There is a methodology that’s developed in that course and we’re applying it to this event because, often, in a working environment, there are really messy, unstructured problems, and there is not a lot of time to properly solve them,” Lin said. “We’ve adapted this methodology to help the participants think more clearly, as a team, what these problems mean to them and how they would develop solutions.”
With a background in Social Organizational Psychology, Maj. Audrey Atwell, a tactical officer at West Point, was the senior leader in the racism group. The group began, on its second day, with trust-building exercises and developing camaraderie. Afterward, they worked on getting underneath the surface level of racism by defining the concept and asking questions, Atwell said.
“On the third day, based on what I learned through the ELDP course, we decided to use an organizational change model known as the Kurt Lewin Model,” Atwell said. “The model consists of examining external factors within an organization. If you don’t examine those external factors, you’re never going to truly understand what’s going on behind closed doors.
“We examine strategic factors, which comprise of the strategy and mission, coupled with leadership and organizational culture,” Atwell added. “These are transformational changes that occur at the highest level.”
Atwell said the model also addresses the operating factors examined by analyzing the organization’s structure, the management practices, and the system’s policies and procedures. Afterward, the model gets into the individual motivating factors of people and who they are within the organization, including individual skills and tasks, the working climate culture, motivation, and individual needs and values.
“This is something I learned intensively throughout the ELDP curriculum and replicating that process in a real-world scenario has been an invaluable experience. I think we will be able to give senior leaders, who can adapt policies, a clear-cut idea of how to tackle the issue,” Atwell said. “As a process manager, I’m simply managing the course and keeping the Soldiers on track. The Soldiers are really doing all the work. All of these ideas (written on paper all over the walls) are their thoughts and processes collated into something that’s obtainable and definable.”
The solutions Soldiers developed and finalized were briefed and recommended to Christopher Lowman, the acting under secretary of the Army; Gen. Joseph M. Martin, the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army; and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston on Friday, Woodruff said.
“The Army cares deeply about these problems. They put tremendous resources into solving these problems — to reducing its impact and investing in the welfare and safety of Soldiers,” Woodruff said. “However, these are really challenging problems. In the past, these problems have defied our efforts and pervaded, not only throughout our military, but through our society as well. And so, this solarium event is a way to continue our effort and combat the corrosive issues that impact our ranks.”