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Is Your Organization Ready to Handle Surprise in the New Year?

Congratulations, you made it to 2014! It’s a New Year with more than its share of asymmetric threats and, yes, constrained budgets. Can you think of a better time to upgrade your red team? Whether your team serves a business organization or a military unit, invest some time in creating a flexible and adaptable team capable of handling what might be your most dangerous challenge: the unexpected surprise.1

  • Build a team. Individuals can sometimes be dangerous and unpredictable (see Edward Snowden). A robust team, however, has the collective knowledge and leveraged social capital to survive the absence or loss of key individuals. Organize the people on your team to be self-sufficient without a leader and capable of cross-monitoring performance. Adjust the team to meet unexpected challenges. Involved leaders who invest time in the development of a small, cross-trained team have the ability to maintain capabilities that could otherwise be lost. Whether delivering the crucial briefing when a teammate is out with the flu or making decisions in crisis event, the team that is not forced to shut down when a team member or leader is missing is the team you want in a pinch.
  • Forget zero defects. Lean Six Sigma and quality assurance programs are great tools in manufacturing environments to reduce waste due to process inefficiencies. In businesses heavily involved with people, information, and ideas, striving for a zero-defect culture can create a risk-averse environment where employees are unwilling to make mistakes and can therefore be crushed by the surprise they never saw coming. Throughout the history of combat operations many mistakes, when capitalized upon, resulted in surprising strategic victories. The misdrops of Allied paratroopers throughout the Normandy peninsula in 1944 serve as a great example. The appearance of paratroopers everywhere at once caused a diversion of forces which helped the Allies get off the beaches. Imagine a world without Post-it® Notes or penicillin, both of which were created mistakenly. As a leader or red teamer, it’s important to understand the impact that mistakes generate within an organization. A zero-defect culture creates a fearful team relationship where innovation and organizational flexibility suffer.
  • Empower your team to explore the possibility of “impossibilities.” Too often organizations fall victim to the Titanic effect: assuming that nothing catastrophic is possible because of the size or capacity or reputation of an organization or business. No organization, unit, or team is invincible. You probably won’t have too much trouble thinking of an “impossible” surprise that caught your organization off guard sometime in the past. Create the conditions for your team’s success in the New Year by allowing them to explore all possibilities. Assist the team by challenging stakeholders who may stand as barriers to success (but remember at the same time that resistance can be a good thing, pointing toward weak ideas or possible pitfalls).

This is the year for red teams to push the limits. Belt-tightening budgets and ever-changing government climates require red teams to break down barriers and challenge their organizations’ comfort zones. The world is changing rapidly and threats are evolving. An organization that is flexible and adaptive to this environment will survive to investigate the possibility of impossibilities again another day.

  1. See RTJ Red Teaming Law #22. []