The Importance of Commander's Intent in Distributed Teams

May 2, 2023 00:00 · 480 words · 3 minute read management start-ups communication

Commander’s intent

In today’s world, distributed teams are becoming more and more common. With remote work becoming the norm, the ability for a team to work effectively together relies on everyone understanding the goal and working towards it as hard as possible. In this context, commander’s intent can be a powerful tool for teams to take advantage of opportunities and achieve their goals. In this post, we’ll explore the importance of commander’s intent in distributed teams, and how it can help smaller companies and startups to succeed.


Commander’s intent is a term that originated in the military, where it refers to the overall goal of a mission that must be communicated to all troops involved. The idea is that if everyone understands the commander’s intent, they can act independently to take advantage of what they see, making the whole team overall more effective. The same concept applies to distributed teams in business settings.

Creating Commander’s intent

For distributed teams, commander’s intent is achieved by marrying alignment and autonomy. Independence can only come after you have alignment, and when everyone is aligned on the overall goal, they can then work autonomously towards it. In this way, everyone on the team knows what they need to do, and they can do it in their own way, bringing their own unique skills and perspectives to the table.

Importance of problem framing

However, the key to achieving commander’s intent is for leaders to frame problems well. No amount of planning or preparation can save a project that is trying to solve the wrong problem. A good method that often works well for this is defining the current state and the desired state and then mapping out what needs to be done in order to reach the desired state. This process is not just useful for planning, but also for selling to customers. The things that are potential roadblocks are what the problems are. Articulating this to your team members can help to foster an environment where they can act independently to take advantage of what they see.

Smaller companies for the win

This is particularly relevant for smaller companies and startups, which often have limited resources and need to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities. By providing a clear commander’s intent and giving team members the autonomy to act on it, smaller companies can take advantage of their size and flexibility to move quickly and innovate in ways that larger companies cannot.


In conclusion, commander’s intent is a powerful tool for distributed teams, and it can be particularly useful for smaller companies and startups. By providing a clear overall goal and allowing team members to work autonomously towards it, companies can take advantage of opportunities and move quickly to achieve their objectives. However, this can only be achieved by framing problems well and ensuring everyone is aligned on the overall goal.

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