Who’s on your Red Team?
I recently read about a concept used in cybersecurity of a “Red Team”.
It probably had its origins in the military and wargaming but, in essence, it’s about having people play the role of a competitor to test your systems or plans.
Sort of like a devil’s advocate but a bit more rigorous. A proof-reader on steroids, maybe.
I found the concept interesting in terms of developing strategies and planning in business.
When working with teams on strategy development, it’s always important to probe and test the group’s thinking during the process.
Looking for data and ways to disprove key assumptions in a plan is essential as we can’t help but get caught up in our own world.
In fact, whenever we’ve invested time working on something, both individually or as a team, we’ve always embedded our own assumptions and unconscious biases in the output.
Have you ever worked hard on a project that you then show to someone else and their honest reaction isn’t what you expected?
They just don’t get it. Or maybe they quickly point out the obvious flaws in your thinking.
It’s easy to call this negativity.
Better to call it feedback.
But the reason I like the idea of the Red Team is that it goes beyond just feedback.
The Red Team’s job is to break your work.
They want to take your shiny business plan and deliberately pull it apart.
When you ask people for feedback their natural tendency is to be positive. OK, they may give some critical feedback, but seldom will they go to town.
Unless you ask them to deliberately find all the holes, they won’t do it.
Or, at least, won’t do it thoroughly.
Another important point, to me, is that the Red Team had no part in making it; they just want to break it.
What would happen if you took this approach in your organisation?
Imagine, you’ve just spent a month pulling together a 3-year strategy for growth. Your PowerPoint is polished and Spreadsheets are purring.
Then you purposely give it to someone and say “here, tell me how you would make this not happen?”
Really? Why would anyone do that?
Here’s two important reasons:
Firstly, if there are any big holes in your work – they should find them.
We’re not talking about rounding errors here. If you’ve baked-in something that everything else hangs around, they’ll see it.
Why? Because that’s the easiest way to break it.
So, putting your Red Team to work will force you to confront key assumptions (and risks) in your strategy or business plan.
Secondly, following on from this, uncovering these things will enable you to either fix them or mitigate against them.
Understanding the critical factors that will break your plan means you can choose the right metrics and measurements to ensure they don’t happen.
Or you may even rip it all up.
If what’s been uncovered is too big, too risky (and potentially too costly)… maybe you need to think again and go back to the drawing board.
Even though, as a facilitator, my role at times is to be that challenging voice in the process, I still cannot remove myself from the process.
When my client has found a breakthrough in thinking and they’re all excited about having a new direction for the organisation, part of me will undoubtedly not want to burst their bubble.
And, having a Red Team doesn’t need to be an elaborate set-up.
Just find someone who you can say “here, tell me how you can make this all go wrong”.