Red teaming. Perhaps you have heard of the phrase. Some may have yet to encounter it. A few may have already mastered it. Others may have unknowingly done it.
But what is it? 134 days after absorbing every page of Red Teaming: Transform Your Business by Thinking Like the Enemy—my last book for 2019—I now have a deeper appreciation for red teaming. I have learned that it helps us do what we do better. It challenges our plans and the assumptions on which they are based. It makes us aware of our biases and limitations, and presents tools and techniques for overcoming them. It focuses on critical and contrarian thinking to stress-test our strategies.
Red teaming traces its roots to the military. The term “red team” is believed to have dated back to the early 1800s, when the Prussian army (known today as the German army) began using war games to train its officers in the safety of a war room, using wooden blocks as stand-ins for military units. One group would develop a battle plan, while another group would assume the role of the enemy, with the intention of exposing the flaws of the other group’s tactics. The Prussian army usually wore blue uniforms, so the home team was represented by blue blocks; while the enemy was represented by red blocks. Eventually, other armies across the globe adopted the approach, which branched out to other organizations, such as government, quasi-government entities, nonprofit organizations, and private corporations.
As Red Teaming author Bryce Hoffman shared, the red team’s job is not necessarily to be right. Its job is to put the whole team in a position to think harder and question its own assumptions. It may have been called other names—devil’s advocate, out-of-the-box thinker, white hat, or disruptor—but it has served the same purpose: to be innovative and transformative in the ways a team has been operating. To such a degree, it shifts the focus away from groupthink and complacency.
Over the years, I have worked with teams of varying personalities and experience. It pays to question the unquestionable and think about the unthinkable to stay relevant in an environment where change happens—whether it is hiring and training the right talent, maintaining a sustainable and responsive compensation structure, pursuing a worthwhile business prospect, offering competitive services and pragmatic solutions to clients, or weathering out a team’s limitations.
The techniques of red teaming are wide-ranging from the widely used SWOT analysis to evaluate a plan’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats through a quad chart and the Five Whys, developed by Toyota, to identify the root cause of strategic problems, to the more thorough String of Pearl Analysis to recognize vulnerabilities and unintended consequences in a plan and the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, developed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, to make analytical judgements on complex problems with substantial data.
A few months ago, we adopted Outside-In Thinking during our 2019 Executive Conference in analyzing the broader environment of our firm and in working our way back to the internal environment to identify opportunities that can influence the direction of our strategic goals.
Being involved with the Kapatid Mentor Me Program of Go Negosyo, the advocacy of the non-stock, non-profit organization the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship, has also given me the privilege to collaborate with business leaders in helping empower budding entrepreneurs. When most entrepreneurs ask how can they make money from their investment, the mentoring program uses contrarian techniques, such as Devil’s Advocacy and What-If Analysis, in testing popular opinions and developing hedges against an uncertain future. Questions, such as what does commercial success look like, what is the biggest threat to the success of the strategy, and where is the weakest link in the supply chain—when answered right—can catapult the entrepreneur to the next level.
Most of the top corporations in the Philippines have employed one or a combination thereof of the tools and techniques of red teaming. For instance, 3M Philippines, through the leadership of its President and Managing Director, Ariel Lacsamana, applied the 15% Principle to spark creative ideas that can make a long-term impact on consumers, helping transform its failed sandpaper business into a USD 30-billion adhesive empire.
Whatever the method, red teaming’s ultimate goal is to make a real difference in the teams, organizations, or other entities we collaborate with. Its impact even encompasses those who have yet to handle or supervise teams, as red teaming influences the mindset of an individual to better evaluate one’s decisions and perspectives in work and life. “Change before you have to” is the earnest advice of General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jake Welch in dealing with challenges and taking advantage of opportunities.
Fundamentally, red teaming needs a lot of courage. We need the courage to respectfully speak objective truth to those in power. We also need the courage to be well-mannered in allowing our perspectives to be challenged and taking advice from our people, as red teaming is not a challenge to leadership. On the contrary, it complements leadership by empowering leaders to make better decisions through well-informed analyses and alternative options. It cannot prevail over bad leadership, as it needs the support of an engaged leader to be effective. However, it can make a good leader a great one.
So, are you ready to red team? After all, in the words of Steve Jobs, we are to “think different.”
Sheena Marie Daño is a Senior Manager in the Tax Advisory and Compliance and Business Process Solutions divisions of P&A Grant Thornton Cebu and Davao offices. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 23 Partners and over 900 staff members. We are in Makati, Cavite, Cebu, and Davao. For comments on this article, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or PAGrantThornton@ph.gt.com. For our services, visit www.grantthornton.com.ph. Follow us on Twitter: pagrantthornton and FB: P&A Grant Thornton.
As published in Mindanao Times, dated 04 February 2020