Red Teams – Your Internal Critics, Advocates and Coaches

Role of the Red Team

Wikipedia defines a Red Team as “an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness.”

Red Teams exist to prepare those individuals presenting a proposal or going into a major interview to win work and to be the best they can. A common practice for companies short-listed on RFP’s (Request For Proposal) or finalists for major projects, is that the team going to the interview will huddle to prepare and rehearse their presentation. That is a good exercise, however unfortunately, these people too often lack the necessary objectivity because they have no one but themselves to critique and provide feedback on their content, approach or presentation. To provide valuable objective perspective, a Red Team can be utilized to improve the performance of those representing the company; raise awareness to critical issues and help develop or refine the presentation and interview skills.

Red Team assessments are a tool that managers and leaders can use to identify threats, risks and vulnerabilities; create implementation systems and structures as well as consider alternative courses of actions and strategies. The Red Team is typically comprised of an internal team of technical specialists, peers or managers that conduct adversary-based assessments to improve the performance and probability of winning work. Outside consultants and specialists can also play a role to provide additional objective and unbiased perspective if required.  

One additional and valuable role a Red Team participant can play is that of a community or user group member. I have served in this capacity for clients in a number of Red Team interviews. My role was to pose questions that represent the typical user lacking in-depth technical knowledge but raising a strong personal or community concern. I also evaluated the sincerity and credibility of the presentation team from an outsider’s perspective. Many of us have witnessed a group of “experts” get frustrated or even derailed by a simple question from someone in the meeting because they were not prepared or had overlooked an obvious concern.

Common objectives of Red Team’s:

  • Identify how to respond and address challenges and attacks from client interview teams or selection committees
  • Take the position of an adversary to assist the presentation team to identify the required resources and knowledge, and sharpen and refine the skills to respond effectively
  • Challenge old assumptions and practices that rely on old data or information
  • Introduce new approaches to problem discovery, response, or resolution
  • Coach the presentation team on how to address difficult questions and handle challenges from interviewers
  • Provide input on lessons learned and feedback on how to mitigate risk or improve and fine-tune the process, systems or procedures
  • Provide the opportunity for the presentation team to conduct a “dress rehearsal” to reduce anxiety and presentation mistakes.

Red Team evaluations should be conducted for all major presentations; however they can also be a valuable resource that is called upon when fresh perspective is required from individuals not deeply embedded in the task or project. Some organizations use Red Teams to assess and validate a new product or service pre-launch, policy changes or governance issues impacting employees or shareholders.Red Team assessments can be a relatively low cost and effective way of getting valuable input and perspective on new initiatives and projects as they may only involve a few hours commitment on the part of team members.

Beyond the Red Team, consider bringing in an outside consultant or coach who helps put the polish on the presentation team before the big event. The more significant winning the project is, the more help is required to prepare those conducting the presentation and representing your firm in a competitive pursuit.  

In my next blog, I will address how to improve skills of the presenters in order to build trust and create rapport with the client or selection committee.

You will never get a second chance to make a first impression ~ Will Rogers

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