Red Teaming in Business



Red against blue, meaning you. 

Everything we do in business carries a risk. Sometimes the risks are small, sometimes large and everything in between we do too. To prepare for this we make plans. The question is when do we put a plan into action? Do we do it right after we made it, or do we give a good night’s sleep before diving in? Or something else?

Of course the ultimate testing of the pudding is in the tasting of the pudding. However, in many situations you really want to double check on your plan, and check again, when failure is costly, very costly an most of all when it is extremely costly. Besides giving it a good night’s sleep there are alternatives available. One such alternative is Red Teaming.

Red Teaming comes from the military. Typically in exercises the setup is one of Blue (= good guys) against Red (= bad guys, being red for then obvious reasons). The latest version (v 7.0, dated jan-2015) of the Red Teaming Handbook from the US is called the applied critical thinking handbook. Critical thinking is indeed a better title, although less resonating, because this is the actual aim of Red Teaming. You are placed in a situation that helps you to critically think about and look at your own plan. As it is described in the handbook: Red Teaming is a function that provides … an independent capability to fully explore alternativesin plans, operations, concepts, organizations and capabilities in the context of the operational environment … and from the perspectives of partners, adversaries and others.

This handbook is freely available over the internet. It is an easy Google. The pdf is full of techniques of which most are easily recognized by and very useful to many in business. These techniques all focus on thinking. That’s great, but not enough I think. Plans are about doing and when you are putting a plan into action you are in a situation in which you want to achieve something. You want to win. Critical discussions, thinking sessions, brainstorms, etc. do not provide that. Games do.

What we did at Changing Games is to make a modification on our FSEG. We reduced it to its generic concept in such a way that we can make it fit any situation. This allows us to create fully customized add-ons for Red Teaming sessions. What this does is add a component to a Red Teaming sessions that is closer to real life, and in particular the competitive drive of people. The latter is what helps people best to become truly critical and constructive.

There is an important thing to mention about the winning part of a Red Teaming game. Winning is an aim but not THE aim of the game. Winning is a means to an end. Red Teaming games aim to challenge a plan. The preparation and construction of the game are also part of the overall Red Teaming activity. During the preparation the critical aspects of the plan are identified and the game constructed in such a way that these are put to the test. The game is also constructed in such a way that unexpected results on one aspect will not block the testing of others. It might happen, for example, that the red team wins big and quickly by invalidating the first aspect. This will compromise the other aspects. A properly constructed Red Teaming game is able to accommodate this. How… well…

Red Teaming is a great tool for checking plans. It also gives you a good night sleep.

Jan-Willem Boots is co-founder of Changing Games

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