[May 7, 2020] I started this Leadership Toolbox series in the first month of my leadership blog back in September 2014. At the time, I saw the value of listing proven tools (regularly used by highly-successful leaders) was a great way to begin fixing leadership problems I saw in the U.S. Army. Today’s topic is about Red Teams, which are a method of attacking failures and inefficiencies in an organization.
The “organization” can be any grouping of people. Red Team usage is, however, uncommon. Senior leaders in large, complex organizations that need an external method of finding gaps in their operations are reluctant because results can reflect poorly upon those leaders. But red teams can be used by large and small businesses, level of the military, and even in families. Red teams are a flexible, easily modifiable addition to the tools a leader can use.
Red teams do require a level of independence to be practical. They should have no limits, other than ethical and legal restraints. Yet, they must have the proper skill sets to work, and red teams must be lead by a person who understands the team’s purpose, limitations, and their work environment. Anything less will devolve into the how-to-fail as a leader scenario we all want to avoid.
For example, the military has used Navy SEALS and other Special Forces to “attack” their most secure installations to find gaps in physical and operational security. Unfortunately, the military has little written on how to organize, build, and staff such a team. Consequently, military red teams are used in various ways but often miss the chance to capture and disseminate lessons and best practices. This concern for improving red teams has started to change for the better.1
We can learn from the military on this subject. Tools require maintenance and their use must be for a specific reason. Like the spade shovel is used to dig dirt, a security red team can unearth problems the commander could not anticipate. The nuts and bolts of designing and putting the team together are paramount. So too, should any leader who uses the red team.
On a side note, I had the opportunity to be the lead on a military red team as an Army Major having just branch transferred from Infantry to Engineers. Our new Battalion Commander wanted to know where to focus his training efforts; tactical or technical training. He would put his resources where the weaknesses were discovered. After two weeks in the field at the Engineer Training Center, and a day of writing up the results, we were disbanded. The results of our red team remained a focal point for training over the next three years.