Red Teaming Article

We are living in a VUCA environment where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are commonplace. Thankfully, the US Army has continually operated in this type of environment, and as a result, has developed proven leadership tools and processes. In this week’s blog I would love to share a military leadership tool for your toolkit that can help you be even more successful.

A common complaint by business leaders is the command-and-control leadership style of the military, and its respective leadership tools and processes don’t resonate in the business world. The reality is, there are far more similarities than differences between the military and business leadership models. The Army’s definition of leadership is providing purpose, motivation, and direction to accomplish the mission while improving the organization. Guess what? That is the same definition of leadership in business. Military and business leaders are equally good at not only following orders but also on adapting and improvising portions of the plan that require adjustment. One of the military leadership tools that is commonly used in the business world is red teaming.


Red teaming is a set of tools designed to challenge assumptions, expose threats, identify opportunities, and stress test plans. It was developed by the German military in the 19th century for the training of Prussian officers. But its history dates back the Vatican’s ‘Office of the Devil’s Advocate’ whose job was to investigate candidates for sainthood.

The business world has found many applications and uses for this process.  For example, during the planning phase of a strategic initiative, red teaming helps to identify strategic gaps or flaws and encourages scanning the environment for threats and opportunities.  

The critical and contrarian thinking aspects of this process are also very effective at exposing hidden assumptions and biases. One common bias red teaming frequently exposes is the confirmation bias. Many of us tend to favor information that confirms our beliefs.  And many times, we are even aware that we are doing it.

For red teaming to be effective, there are certain ground rules that need to be established by the members of the team or leadership group. First, it needs to operate within a transparent culture that encourages thinking outside the box. Second, there should be ‘no rank in the room.’ Everyone is on equal footing, taking part in the discussion along with raising their issues and concerns. Third, it requires that members place the interests of the organization above their own interests. Finally, remember don’t limit your focus to only threats and risks, also look for opportunities.


According to Dr. Sean Hannah, the key components of an effective red team session are the following:

  1. Perform a stakeholder audit where you identify all the internal and external stakeholders your plan will affect.
  2. Conduct a stakeholder analysis by assessing the potential actions and reactions of each of the identified stakeholders. Ask questions that will uncover the desires, needs, fears and positions of each stakeholder.
  3. Employ  Murphy’s law and Yhprum’s law. Murphy’s law states, ‘if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.’ Use this law to help identify threats or risks that could happen during this operation, plan or initiative. Then use Yhprum law (Murphy’s law spelled backward), which states ‘anything that can go right, will go right,’ to discover opportunities.
  4. Identify critical events and decision points. A critical event is an event that would either positively or negatively influence the result. Decision points are where the leader may have to decide whether to move forward with the plan or course correct via a contingency plan. In other words, these are the critical points in time where a key decision needs to be made.
  5. Create contingency plans for each decision point.
  6. Put together a list of information for the senior leader. This document will enable the leader to spend more of their time thinking strategically and to be brought into the loop only during critical decision points.
  7. Refine the process.

Remember, red teaming is something you do on the front end during the planning process. Once the strategy or plan is done, then there should be an after-action review, another military leadership tool. Just like a post-mortem, the after-action review is a fact-based and intensive review of an operation to determine what went well, what did not go well, and how to make the improvements.

In the Army, there is an old saying regarding the conduct of combat operations and strategic initiatives, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” The next time your team or organization is making little to no progress on a project or strategic initiative, take some time to realign, focus and refresh. The extra time you spend at the beginning of a project, initiative or operation employing tools such as red teaming, will greatly increase the probability of positive outcome in the long run.

To learn more about planning and decision making I would encourage you to read our blogs on Seeing Around Corners and Making Better Decisions.


Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.

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