Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 24, Issue 8;   February 21, 2024: Red Team Reviews of Uphill Briefings

Red Team Reviews of Uphill Briefings


In preparing for uphill briefings, briefers can benefit from preliminary reviews. When we review the briefing early in development, the briefing team can address vulnerabilities and exploit opportunities. A Red Team review is one style of preliminary review.
The results of a crash test

The results of a crash test. We conduct these tests under controlled conditions to enable engineers and designers to identify vulnerabilities and opportunities for improvement. A Red Team review of a briefing serves an analogous purpose.

A Red Team review of a work product is a review conducted by a team of knowledgeable individuals who simulate the behavior of the "customer" — the ultimate recipients of the work. This simulation gives the authors of the work product, often referred to as the Blue Team, a chance to practice the kind of interactions they will eventually have with the Customer. By prior arrangement, the Red Team focuses on specific attributes of the work product, though the members of the Blue Team might not be aware of the details of this arrangement.

Red Team reviews were originally developed for the fields of defense analysis and intelligence analysis. In the military and intelligence contexts, the work products in question are intended to address issues that arise in adversarial exchanges, such as military engagements, espionage, terrorism defense, and cybersecurity. Red teaming works well in such applications because the Red Team itself can act as a simulated adversary — often referred to as the "enemy" — even when the interaction with the Blue Team is conducted as a "table-top" exercise.

Red Team reviews can be helpful tools well beyond the set of contexts related to military engagements. [TraDoc 2018] For example, red teaming has found application in cybersecurity [Cyderes 2020], proposal authorship [Singh 2022], and public relations [Bashir 2021].

A Red Team review of an uphill briefing can cover both the content and delivery of the briefing. In practice, the Red Team plays the role of the Customer. They receive briefing materials in advance of the simulated briefing just as the Customer would in the actual briefing. They act as audience as the Blue Team delivers the briefing. They might comment and ask questions during the briefing. Following the briefing they convene to write a report evaluating the briefing materials, the Blue Team's delivery during the briefing, and the briefing as a whole.

Structure of the review

The objectivity The objectivity of the members of
the Red Team is protected because
they played no roles or minimal roles
in development of the work product
of the members of the Red Team is protected because they played no roles or minimal roles in development of the work product. Because the review occurs before delivery, the result of the review can guide corrective actions to improve the product and its delivery.

But briefings are not military engagements. In briefings there is no enemy or adversary. There are no attacks or counter-attacks. But there is a simulated customer, played by the Red Team. In a Red Team review of an uphill briefing, skeptical and assertive questioning replaces the attacks and counter-attacks of military engagements and espionage.

The structure of a Red Team review of an uphill briefing is straightforward. The Blue Team presents its briefing to the Red Team, which plays the role of the senior managers who will eventually receive the briefing. The Red Team will have been charged with examining particular aspects of the briefing, such as elements of the content, or delivery style. Typically, during the review, the Red Team tries to emulate the anticipated behavior of the actual Customer. In this way, the Red Team can explore the effectiveness of the Blue Team as it responds to the Red Team's simulation.

Following the simulated briefing, the Red Team compiles an evaluation of both the content of the briefing and the Blue Team's performance. The evaluation addresses the objectives previously agreed upon, and any other results deemed significant. Red and Blue can then discuss the evaluation together.

A weakness of Red Team reviews

It is the ability of red teaming to simulate adversarial contexts that makes it a useful tool for briefers who represent their teams in review contexts. By conducting a Red Team review of the briefing before delivering it to executives, the team can identify vulnerabilities in its message in advance of the actual delivery.

But Red Team reviews have a significant weakness. Although they can reveal vulnerabilities and missed opportunities in the work product and its delivery, Red Team reviews reveal little about what they might have missed. That is, beyond the vulnerabilities and missed opportunities that a Red Team review does reveal, there could be additional vulnerabilities and missed opportunities even more significant than those discovered.

Last words

One other risk associated with Red Team reviews of uphill briefings is that they can cause lasting harm. The members of the Red Team are tasked with playing the role of senior managers. Some zealous role-players might behave in ways that damage their relationships with members of the Blue Team, with consequences that persist long after the simulation comes to a close.

Two risk mitigation measures are recommended. The first and most important is adoption of behavioral norms that protect against such mishaps. Some training will be required so that all participants understand the norms and their importance. Second, and optionally, one participant can be designated as a facilitator. The primary responsibility of the facilitator is calling a temporary halt to the simulation if one or more of the norms are violated. With those two measures in place, a Red Team review of an uphill briefing can be safe and productive. Go to top Top  Next issue: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable  Next Issue

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Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[TraDoc 2018]
U.S. Army, Training and Doctrine Command, "The red team handbook: The Army's guide to making better decisions (Version 9.0)," Training and Doctrine Command G-2 Operational Environment Enterprise (2018). Available here. Retrieved 4 February 2024. Back
[Cyderes 2020]
Cyderes. "Understand Pentesting vs. Red Teaming," Cyderes blog, December 14, 2020. Available here. Retrieved 4 February 2024. Back
[Singh 2022]
Sunny Singh. "How to Conduct a Red Team Review: Three Things You Need to Know," Key Solutions, Inc., blog, February 10, 2022. Available here. Retrieved 4 February 2024. Back
[Bashir 2021]
Adnan Bashir. "To Improve Crisis-Response Plans, Bring in a Red Team," PRSay blog, June 7, 2021. Available here. Retrieved 4 February 2024. Back

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