Making better people decisions using “Red Team” methods

You are a senior leader in your business and are launching a new plan to achieve… whatever. It could be a business succession plan, a people strategy, HR systems upgrade, acquisition, restructuring etc. You have done your best to ensure that a project team co-created the plan with you and you are all fired up and ready to go. Hold on a minute, do any of the following apply?

The project team was really cohesive and had a great experience working together and had no conflicts…. perhaps suffering from groupthink?

Some vested interests, some hubris? There was a lot of pressure to deliver, to just get it done? Complacent with the result? It’s good enough?

Were any cognitive biases at play? Perhaps the IKEA effect, you know the one where something you have built has no flaws just because it was you who built it… like that build-a-bear you made which has great value (to you.) Was the Dunning-Kruger effect at play? …. the one where everyone overestimates their own abilities.

Exit, Voice, Loyalty

When the project or idea is launched there are really only three choices for others. Exit is self-explanatory, people vote with their feet. Voice is where individuals feel safe enough to voice their opinion and are heard, however there might be self-censorship at work so people may default to the third choice – loyalty. Let’s face it the other two might be perceived as quite high risk career strategies. Who has ever suffered around here by agreeing with their boss?

Red Team Methods

Perhaps you need to deploy some Red Team methods to check out your plan before going live? Red Teaming is not a new concept, but it has gained some traction in recent years not least in the military from where this definition comes:

“Red teaming is the art of applying independent structured critical thinking and culturally sensitised alternative thinking from a variety of perspectives, to challenge assumptions and fully explore alternative outcomes, in order to reduce risks and increase opportunities”

Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) MoD UK

It’s more than giving people permission to be antagonistic and ask disconfirming and probing questions it’s explicitly demanding that they do. It’s a value adding process that improves your decision making , identifies and reduces risks and the unexpected.

Red Teaming is commonly used for penetration testing of systems in cyber security but some methods have been around a lot longer.

In stoic philosophy there is the “premeditatio malorum”, the ancient practice of thinking about all the negative things that could happen. More recently Gary Klein talks about using a “pre-mortem”.

Similarly there is the “Devil’s Advocate” a role previously used by the Catholic Church to try and identify why someone shouldn’t be made a saint.

The practice of Design Reviews and Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) have been a systematic part of the process for New Product Introduction for many years. By being part of the process it is not just acceptable but mandatory to check on what assumptions have been made, to take a contrarian view, to run some diagnostics and in doing so, produce a better design.

So can you and your organisation learn to systematically make some better people decisions? Do you need independent support? a critical friend?

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