05 March 2019

Going 'Back to Basics' is for Amateurs

‘We are going back to basics’. A new year and new command team but some things remain the same. Is there a need to continue to reset to a basic level of training each calendar year, or is it the leadership team’s own insecurities that drive the training continuum backward?

As a leader, declaring that your team is going back to basics is the easy option. The likelihood of success in early training evolutions is increased and the ego remains intact. The simple statement of ‘going back to basics’ also implies that whatever the team was doing before under previous leadership was wrong and that the new leadership team is going to fix the perceived problems.

The requirement to be brilliant at the basics doesn't change, but the conditions that you set to challenge and refine them make them relevant.

The Lightbulb Moment

At the end of my first year as the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) of A Squadron 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the standard that the Squadron had achieved was close to the best I had ever seen. Their ability to shoot, move and communicate was testament to the high standard of instruction that the School of Armour was delivering and the further development by their previous leadership team.

In March of 2015 we deployed to the field for the first time in the training year. The Squadron was almost unchanged and without any analysis or attempt to gauge skill degradation we jumped straight into basic Troop Level Training, utilising the crawl, walk run methodology. As I observed the training I became increasingly frustrated at the standard of our tactical manoeuvre and basic Troop Drills. It had been 2-3 months between exercises but the level of skill decay was far more than I anticipated. As the exercise progressed we commenced Squadron level manoeuvre and I wasn’t convinced that we were ready to increase training intensity.

What happened next was a key moment in my own development as a leader. From the moment the OC gave orders for Squadron level manoeuvre there was an immediate shift in mindset. Troop Leaders were conducting cross talk, reporting was clear and concise, and vehicle manoeuvre was as good as it had been the previous year. The Command Post and Echelon was being pushed outside of it’s comfort zone and in turn, so was I. After Action Reviews (AAR) now had substance to them as everyone became engaged.

The common argument for ‘shakeout training’ is the requirement to focus on basic skills to set the platform for more advanced training. This is certainly a consideration when developing training evolutions from a safety point of view and analysis of skill decay is imperative. Squadron level manoeuvre challenges the entire Sub-Unit, but also allows basic individual and crew skill sets to be developed through relentless fault correction by Junior and Senior NCOs.


Push your team to previously achieved standards early. You will increase the chance of failure, however develops an organisations ability to recover from failure quickly through timely and honest AARs. It also shows trust in your new team and respect for the previous command team, a respect that will be a pleasant change from the standard bad mouthing of predecessors.

Sub unit HQ and Echelon must be involved tactically early. The easy option is tackle that beast later once everything starts running smoothly and training is underway. The reality that it never runs smoothly and often your largest capability gap is the tactical employment of your echelon and how they interface between HQ and the Troops in the field.


The road to a high performing team is littered with potholes of mediocrity. Let your new team show you how good they are and adapt the training continuum accordingly. Assess decay and focus your training but most of all work to develop a mature organisation that can identify points of failure and self correct.

Written by : Ben Horton