Monday, April 5, 2010

Red Teams: Towards Radical Innovation

This article appeared in an Executive Technology Report by IBM corporation in July 2005 and was based on an essay by Peter Andrews, Consulting Faculty Member at the IBM Advanced Business Institute in Palisades, New York.

In this article, the author talks about red teaming as a tool that can help provide competitive advantage to businesses and the key factors that are essential for successful red teaming. The author also mentions some of the reasons red teaming can go wrong.

In the private sector, red teams are mainly used as review panels. The author argues that red teams can act as a driver for innovation by challenging assumptions, finding vulnerabilities and actively finding unconventional means to get a jump on mainstream (or Blue) planning teams.

Key Benefits of a Red Team:
  • Identifying significant vulnerabilities
  • Discovering new uses for innovations
  • Challenging taboos and assumptions
  • Providing a minority report on a new concept or idea
  • Revealing the consequences of different perspectives;
    • in-particular the perspectives of those with different goals and risk profiles.
The success of a Red Team primarily depends on the people who make up the team. The critical success factors can be listed as below:

Composition of team:

This is by far as the most important reason which can ensure the success of red teaming. The team needs to include experts and also people who ask naive questions. They need to inhabit the roles of adversaries and risk delivering bad news. They also need to understand the mindset and culture of their own organizations and that of their adversaries. They need to be capable of detailed critical analysis, but also need to be imaginative and iconoclastic. Most of all they need to be adept at communicating surprising concepts in clear, compelling language.

Management support:

The red team needs the authority and standing to get a fair hearing for its ideas and concepts. It also needs material support, proper staffing and access to information and resources without which the red team may find itself blocked or ignored.

Relationship with blue team:

The red team has to have the trust of the blue team without which, the blue team may hide key data and be reluctant to incorporate the views and insights of the red team. At the same time the red team must maintain a level of independence and a willingness to make unpopular statements.


The required deliverables of the red team must be defined and there must be some measure of success. The red team must have a level of accountability and should know what is promised and be able to deliver on those promises.

Available information:

The author states that providing the red team with an "open book" on innovation and regularly meeting with the blue team can benefit both teams. This is opposed to the school of thought where the blue team does not disclose any of its plans or tactics to the red team.

Rules of the game:

The author advocates clearly defining the rules of engagement wit
h regard to information, judgment of success, what
comprises proof and when/how opinions and insights are offered. Also the consequences with respect to career advancement and rewards also needs to be stated up front.

The author says that red teams are the most successful when they begin questioning assumptions and digging into the role of adversaries so as to approach good acting.

However, the author acknowledges that this is not easy and quotes a U.S. Department of Defense review which identified the many ways a red team exercise can go wrong. Some of the reasons which the author highlights in this article are as below:
  • Red team members not taking their assignment seriously
  • Red team not getting enough inside information to be credible
  • Teams violating trust by leaking information
  • Lack of quality members in the red team
  • Inability to step into shoes of adversaries

The author concludes that in a relatively stable environment and companies that do not have the means to take radical ideas and turn them into action, Red Teams are not a good use of resources. But in highly competitive environment Red Teams are beginning to be seen as important tools for many businesses.

1 comment:

  1. This article seems to imply that the culture of an organization is an important factor in the success of a red team exercise. When decision makers are unwilling to accept the report of the red team, the exercise has little utility.