The development of command structures, communication and organization.

“The task of the King, who has been appointed over all people,

does not consist of doing everything himself;

it is evidence of extreme vanity to hope in this way to reach his goal.”1

- Bishop Francois Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon 1651-1715

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Over the centuries one can observe a constant evolution of the military organization. We give a concise summary of the most important developments as there is an unmistakable parallel between these and . Some military commanders were successful because they were able to disassociate themselves from existing organizational doctrines and experimented with different methods and structures. (We have consciously chosen ‘different’ instead of ‘new’ because not all new methods are better!). The overwhelming conclusion is that most of such measures were aimed at creating circumstances in which tasks could be better delegated.

Standardization & Training

In the 16th century (around 1570/80) Prince Maurice of Nassau started to re-organize by reducing the size of the companies (from 300 to 100 men) but keeping the number of officers unchanged in order to achieve a better span of control. At the same time he introduced drill and for the first time connected the different movements to standardized words of command. Subsequently he changed the organization of the army by combining a number of companies into a battalion and combining 3 to 4 battalions into a regiment. These innovations increased the flexibility of the Dutch Army. Constant training to create a professional army was the hallmark of Maurice.

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Size of Armies

Until 1800 armies seldom exceeded 40,000 men because the span of control of the commander was never greater than the distance which could be covered by the eye, the voice, the trumpet or the drum. The span of control was limited by the human senses. Thedevelopment of the Division, Corps and General Staff were organizational inventions that made far larger armies possible.

The Division

At the end of the 18th century Duc de Broglie (French 1718-1804), established the division. was commanded by a General and consisted of a number of regiments (mostly 3 to 4) and possessed its own artillery and cavalry component including a detachment of engineers. A division is actually a small but complete army, totalling approximately 10,000 to 20,000 men, able to operate independently. In present day business organizations the division has been the commonly applied organizational concept since 1950 for independently operating parts of the corporation. In business the division organization was first introduced by General Motors. In business a division is an organization mostly concentrated around one product or service possessing all the specialized support and staff departments such as: finance and accounting, HR, advertising, R & D , logistics, etc which are needed to act independently.

The Corps

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Napoleon who commanded much larger armies than previously existed, organized his army into Corps. A Corps consisted of 2 to 4 divisions commanded by aided by a dedicated staff. sometimes exceeded the unheard of size of 200,000 men. A Corps can be compared with a corporation.

The General Staff

Under Napoleon the modern General Staff was founded. A Staff was a novel organizational development to facilitate the tasks of a commander. Napoleon’s Staff included a topographical unit, a statistical bureau, a geographical map section, an intelligence sector, a number of secretaries and a great number of liaison officers, orderlies and dispatch riders. The Staff took care of the bivouacs of the troops, calculated the logistical needs and prepared maps of future battlefields and the profiles of the enemy’s Commanders. The organization and tasks of the General Staff were further developed by the German general Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) and was given an advisory function and more tasks such as theplanning of campaigns. The General Staff in business has the same function, though named a bit less militaristic (Board, Management Team etcetera) and has a comparable organization of staff personnel supporting the decision makers and commanders (CEO, CFO and the like) of the firm. Napoleon appointed a Chief of Staff to command his General Staff. Napoleon was lucky to have such an excellent man as Louis Alexander Berthier (1753-1815) to command his staff. It is doubtful whether the French command system, under Napoleon, would have functioned to the degree of excellence it did without Berthier. Berthier's brilliance lay in his ability to translate the many orders of the Emperor into easily understood messages to his Marshals and Generals. From nmslink:chief of staff,the Chief of Staff] emanated the orders of Napoleon via his orderlies and dispatch riders to the Corps commanders (the average speed by which a message could be conveyed was approximately 8 kilometres per hour).

Staff & Line organization

established the Staff organization and Line organization. The Line organization did the actual fighting (operations), while the staff organization gathered intelligence, planned the operations and tried to anticipate logistical demands, etc. In approximately 1807 The Germans (Prussians) also adopted this system and von Moltke developed it to such excellence that the German General Staff became famous. The organizational concept in business of Staff and Line organization comes from the Napoleonic Army.


The larger armies created with these innovative organizational concepts obviously require improved communications for command and control. The German general Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) introduced the telegraph to communicate orders to the Prussian Army Corps. In 1860 the use of the telegraph as a means of communication was still a rather clumsy technique, but for the first time one could command armies without actually having to see them! Then there followed the development of new communication technology such as the telephone, the radio and later satellite communication. These made profound changes in the way armies could be commanded. In the 1860’s Von Moltke already anticipated what the adverse aspects this development could have and in 1860 he exclaimed “Beware the soldier who has to fight with a telegraph wire on his back”.


Then came the First World War with its mass armies and the bloodshed of the static trench warfare on the Western front. To end this stalemate the German general Oskar von Hutier (1857-1934) developed new infiltration tactics based on relatively small units of well trained and well armed . His success and frequent wide scale use of these units caused the British to dub them 'Hutier tactics'. The use of smaller military units had already propagated by the French Colonel Ardant du Picque in 1870. This concept is used in business for sudden tasks of high importance. It is called a ‘Task Force’, a ‘Hit Team’ or given another challenging name that intends to motivate the members and make them stand out and so underline their important task. They too are often self-propelled teams that are given ‘unlimited resources’ in conquering or solving the unexpected for which the standing organization is too inflexible.

Armoured Division

The gifted general Karl Heinz von Guderian (1888- 1953), based on the Hutier concept and by applying the latest technological developments, created the mobile, all arms Armoured Division (Panzer Division). A Panzer Division consisted of light and heavy tanks (300 to 500) and further had its own reconnaissance unit, mobile artillery, anti-tank battery, intelligence unit, engineering battalion, logistics component and even an own squadron of the dreaded Stuka dive bombers to attack the weak flank. This combined arms unit was made possible through the use of modern wireless communication. This fast and completely motorized division was very successful because they were able to quickly exploit any weak areas in the adversary’s frontline. The lesson for business of the invention of the Armoured Division is that through the use of new technology, a new organizational form was developed that allowed a more rapid response to the adversary. Its example in business is Galbraith succeeded by the computer. Galbraith’ answer to growth in the pre-automation era was, simply put, to introduce more layers of management so that the span of control of humans remained constant; 2 the computer made possible to cut layers of management by leaving standard authorization tasks to rules that were automated in the machine.

Another WW II organizational innovation was the German ‘Kampfgruppe’ (combat group). The Kampfgruppe (KG) could range in size from a corps to a company. The KG was an adhoc combined arms formation generally organized for a particular task or operation. Despite the fact that the members of a Kampfgruppe came from different units they cooperated without difficulty because of the common all-round basic training. During the war hundreds of Kampfgruppen were mobilized in operations which ranged from a few days to over a year. After the war the Kampfgruppe concept was adopted by the allies and it was used to great effect by the Israeli Army during the Arab-Israeli Wars. The modern US Combined Arms Task Force is a logical progression of the Kampfgruppe principle.4 The parallel of the Combat Group in business are the Project Team and the Project Organization. Projects are assembled with a particular purpose and goal. Project teams consist of experts from different departments. When the specific project is finished the members return to their own departments. The modern organization becomes more and more project oriented. Change is constant (that is, the only constant factor is change itself) but change is identified in manageable ‘chunks’ that can each (in parallel and in succession) be managed by or as a project. Change comes from many of the elements discussed in this book; the competition, the market, the legal environment and technology to name a few. Therefore what kind of ‘Kampfgruppen’ may need to be assembled is generally unknown beforehand. The ability to quickly and effectively form Project Teams or Taskforces for a varying array of non-routine tasks enhances the flexibility of the organization.

Conclusions: Parallels in Development

When studying the history of the evolution of the military organization over the last two centuries, the parallels in its development stages with the growth of a company of today enfolds. During the development from a small firm to a large company the same kind of organizational phases can be seen. In the beginning it is one organization, then it expands and introduces separate departments/sectors, and a Staff. After consistent growth the original company becomes managed as a Holding, with the Centre or General Staff managing the separate divisions or groups (regiments and divisions). As with the military, we also see organizations fight the rigidness that results from their increasing size with the forming of independent, smaller and coherent groups such as project teams, taskforces and profit centres (combat groups). Despite the lessons from history and the present organizational theories, the structure of the company and the manner in which it is managed is always subject to change, to experimentation, innovation, trends and even fads. Companies are constantly split up, transformed, centralized or de-centralized, re-organized or, in modern jargon, re-invented.

1. “L’abilité d’un roi qui est au dessus des autres hommes ne consiste pas faire tout par lui meme cést une vanité grossiere que d’espère d’ en venir a bout.“
2. J.R. Galbraith, Designing complex organizations, Addison Wesley, Reading, MA, 1973.
3. M. Hammer and J. Champi, Reengineering the corporation, HarperCollins, New York, 1993.
4.  Retrieved from

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