Better RFP Responses & Management
Staffing Red Teams

Staffing Red Teams

I may — cough cough — have spoken (once? twice?) about the beast that is Red Team:

  • The ones that get into feeding frenzies, attacking everything in sight.
  • The ones that correct typos and flag irrelevant and idiosyncratic usage/style preferences but never address whether the response is complete, never mind compliant or well organized.
  • The ones that quite rightly tell you  to adjust the order of a presentation for greater marketing impact . . . but quite wrongly give you that instruction multiple times in every single dagnabbed affected section. Not that I’m bitter.

Red Teams are usually dominated by executives, and executives are like cats: You can’t herd ’em. I know, I’ve tried:

  • I’ve tried the careful assignment of sections to focus folks on their area of expertise.
  • I’ve tried the written briefing notes to lay out expectations (What we want, how we want it, what we don’t want).
  • I’ve tried the in-person verbal orientations delivered in a don’t-make-me-come-over-there tone.
  • I’ve tried every facilitator’s trick in the book during the melee.

All these can help, but Red Teams remain stubbornly unherded.

Why is that? As always, Seth has an interesting answer.

It turns out that most people are unpracticed
and unprofessional at giving useful feedback.

I can vouch for that, at least for the “unprofessional” part. The next question might be, “How do we change it?” Maybe that starts with specifying what we want from a Red Team, as with any feedback.

We don’t need unwarranted criticism or simple reassurance.
In fact, we need someone who understands the genre
and has the insight to share what they know
in a way we can use.

So. A few things occur.

Sharing our insights in a way that others can use it is not necessarily an in-born trait. Maybe Red Teamers need the task to be defined, as noted above, but maybe they also need some useful feedback — neither unwarranted criticism nor simple reassurance — on their performance.

Do you know anyone who does that with Red Teams? I didn’t think so. With 30+ years in the business, I’ve never seen it done.

And yet. Maybe our organizations do have people — even, ahem, executives — who could learn to be better Red Teamers. Folks who could learn to give better feedback if we, too, could learn that very skill.



  1. Jim Taylor

    As a solo freelancer, I am my own red team. (Also, of course, my own green team, yellow team, purple team, and 76 trombones.)

    Yes, I think the skills of feedback can be learned. I have to train myself not to be a line editor when someone sends me a manuscript and asks what I think of it. Is it a good story? Is it publishable? How will it affect people? My instinctive response is to go at that ms with a blue pencil — to MAKE it publishable, dammit — but that’s not helpful. Not yet, anyway.

    On a more personal note, your insight about red teams also applies to friends: “has the insight to share what they know in a way we can use.” I’ve needed that skill in my friends in the twin griefs of losing Joan and losing Pippin. And, fortunately, a few friends do have it.

    Jim T

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