The Red Team: How to Avoid Complacency and Have a Contingency Strategy


Complacency Kills!

Ask any fighter pilot or military member who has been in the business long enough about “Complacency” and that is what you will hear. Ask a business leader about a challenge their company is facing and you might very well hear the same thing. An overabundance of complacency will kill an organization faster than their competition. However, there are tools to defeat complacency. The number one tool is a contingency strategy that brings about success in your organization even when things don’t go as planned.

Strengthen Your Execution Strategy with the Red Team

Merriam-Webster defines complacency as, “a self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” In other words, “it’s good enough,” “close enough for government work,” “this is how we have always done it.” Have you heard someone use these phrases before? Are these common statements floating around your organization?

Over the next four articles, we will discuss four areas where we can fight complacency and keep your teams on the cutting edge.

The first area we can fight complacency in an organization is during the planning phase. Most organizations do some form of planning. However, many organizations fail to plan for Contingencies and don’t develop a contingency strategy. They never Red Team their plans prior to execution. The Red Team process, Afterburner’s method of peer review, is a critical step that occurs early on in the Execution Strategy.

You Won’t Achieve Flawless Execution Without a Contingency Plan

Contingency planning will keep your team on the lookout for “dangers or deficiencies.” Rather than excusing away potential hazards, they will be cognizant of the triggers that indicate that something is going wrong. This is vitally important. Recognizing that something is amiss allows a team to Respond to a changing condition rather than React. There is a difference between the two. If you are Responding to changing conditions, you are ahead of the game. If you are Reacting, then you are already behind. Asking the question, “What if XYZ happens and how will we handle it?” will keep your teams sharp and ready to respond.

In addition to planning for Contingencies, every team should always have their plans go through a “Red Teaming” process. During the Red Team, a group of individuals (who are familiar with what is going on but have not been part of the planning) analyze the sanity of the plan. They look for weaknesses, misallocation of resources, undiscovered threats, etc. and challenge the validity of the plan. The goal of the Red Team is to help discover potential execution errors before they occur. This may seem like an uncomfortable exercise and it can be at times. However, if you fail to Red Team your plans, the marketplace, your customers, and your competition definitely will.

Planning for Contingencies and Red Teaming the plans are important elements we teach in our Flawless Execution model. Although these two steps seem very simple, they are often overlooked. As individuals and teams, we always want to rush into the execution. However, allowing complacency to creep into the planning environment by thinking “the plan is good enough,” will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences during the execution phase.


Patrick “Lips” Houlahan has been involved with the start-up of two companies as an operation and business development executive. The challenging experience of starting a business coupled with his vast knowledge of leading high-performing teams has made Lips one of Afterburner’s most valued speakers. He regularly speaks and consults with many of today’s leading corporations such as Verizon, GE, ExxonMobil, Medtronic, and H&R Block to name a few. Lips was an F/A-18 Hornet Instructor Pilot and flew the A-10 Warthog accumulating over 2800 hours of flight time.