A military background isn’t necessary to run a successful tabletop exercise or war gaming scenario.

The idea of war gaming as a resource to practice strategic planning and increasing your readiness for the worst-case scenarios has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is a proven method used by organisations, the military, defense force and even seen in computer games as the main foundation to understanding situational awareness. Also known as conflict simulations, or “consims” for short, war gaming’s most popular pastime is now seen in games like chess, as a way for Generals and military leaders to hone their strategic thinking. This was documented as far back as ancient Indian warfare and the Romans.

A general consensus exists that all such games must explore and represent some feature or aspect of human behaviour. For military operations, this is used to understand the bearing of conflict or war. In the 21st century, business war games have become popular for many crisis management professionals and senior executives to find gaps in markets which competitors may fill. Generally however, they are only role-playing games based on market situations, business continuity and simulations for crisis teams. PreparedEx introduces war gaming to clients as valuable tabletop tool in increasing that situational awareness.

In 2018, realistic scenarios, layouts, and technologies all help enhance the training and planning for individuals to get the best experience from the war game. Introducing the concept of war gaming in tabletop exercises may involve hypothetical games that are grounded in historical facts but concern issues or conflicts that have yet to happen. The sweet spot for these games is to promote a moderate level of uncertainty to the team. This helps communicate and train out possible scenarios to that specific organisation or individual to be able to handle with no ramifications. It also enhances situational awareness by providing a bird’s eye view of the event which adds value to the session.

Many senior executives around the globe now use war gaming to determine and understand strong competitor analysis and how they might impact their own business aggressively through certain areas of the market. Unfortunately, it was reported in the United States throughout 2016, that many large organisations and executives did not learn the correct information from their war games, misjudging when they were appropriate, who to invite and how to design them. That’s why we recommend taking a step back and learning from those that use them daily, and most effectively: the military.

War Gaming has been extremely effective for some of the world’s largest military forces and today it is used for many different scenarios that require more in-depth planning.

Homeland Operations War Game

In 2011, Unified Quest (UQ) conducted a three-part war game with Homeland Security and the Department of Defense (DOD) to examine how army forces conduct military operations within the United States, while remaining within the constraints of civilian laws. The UQ theme was to enable combined arms manoeuvres and widespread security forces operations

in the 21st century to an effective standard. This war game was the first Unified Quest event to focus solely on homeland security operations.

The event supported how the US Army conducted certain operations and allowed them to collectively bring to light issues and concerns from two very separate departments. It helped understand the major differences and hurdles the US Army and DOD may go through that are different to that of foreign warfare. Many organisations can be misled in believing that a war game is an excuse to build new ideas to tackle a problem, when in this session, the Army and DOD worked on streamlining and reviewing the current tactics and identifying what actions they were allowed to take now to solve existing problems. This allowed them to work first on their communications, partnerships and rights within Civilian Law when acting on homeland.

LCDR Brian Robinson of the US Coast Guard and US Army Center for Law & Military Operations said, “There are major legal issues in any kind of disaster response where the army or DOD is operating in the homeland. There is really an entirely different legal structure to how you conduct operations on home soil. When it’s supporting the civil authorities or law enforcements, DOD is in a supporting role. The Stafford Act sets the left and right lanes to what the department can and can’t do. We explored these in great detail today through well thought out scenarios. With the national framework, DOD has certain prescript mission assignments to authorise them to take action during an event. The planning and execution of these assignments, laws and legislations that can be most effective on are practiced heavily through war gaming”.

Related: War-gaming – Part 1: The History

This war game was an opportunity to understand the unique traits to operating in the homeland. Mirroring their typical approach to foreign warfare and strategy through a tabletop exercise, the Army and DOD were able to combine arms manoeuvres and security to two central processes through practicing. This allowed all key stakeholders to understand the plans set in motion far in advance, but perhaps most importantly, see it unfold through their tabletop exercise.

“The end state of the event was to look at both short term strategies and long term. Through the interim solution strategies, we were forced to answer some very difficult questions during operations for our campaign of learning. We also saw what we were responsible for within the consequence of management issues. During the game, we were able to look at short term and long-term solutions for this, which really was never discussed prior to the session” said COL Bret Van Camp of the Maneuverer Support Center of Excellence Chemical, Biological Radiological and Nuclear School. The added result to this session was the American & Canadian Defense Force both understand where and when they are able to operate as one when a serious event occurs, allowing more support and resources for both nations.

Improve Your Business with War Gaming

The idea of war games is to create a hypothetical competitive situation and then have two or more teams engage in “battle” to complete the task. This can be an eye-opening experience for everyone involved when there is competition and a sense of urgency. Having executives take a back seat and encourage more junior staff to lead is an extremely positive exercise for everyone.

We are truly in an age of disruption and thus need to be as prepared as we can. 2018 will bring with it the highest rate of weather events and cyberattacks globally. McAfee Labs reported last year that GTI protections against malicious files increased to 40 million per day

in Q3 from 36 million per day in Q2 2017. Continual improvement is always necessary for any business looking to succeed and remain resilient in this ever-changing environment.

Researching and exploring techniques can help you engage the right people and ensure they leave your session in a positive mindset and aware of what the crisis management processes are. Initiating a war game that is both interesting and meaningful builds that credibility around your wider team and colleagues.

Fortunately, having a military background isn’t necessary to run a successful tabletop exercise or war gaming scenario. You simply need to understand the fundamentals and objectives to running a session like this and how your organisation will benefit.

Ways you can improve your overall business readiness with war gaming could be:

  • Communication: In some cases, parts of a newly formed crisis team may never have worked together before or been in a crisis event together. These sessions can help build relationships, trust, and effective teams with them simply working together.
  • Identification: During an extreme scenario (which you should be adding to your war game), learnings can appear that are not picked up in standard crisis management exercises. For example, the human impact of a serious event or how competitors or supply chains can single-handedly wipe out a business.
  • Evaluation: Being able to understand the team’s ability to handle a crisis is important but being able to ensure this is tested before an event will help the organisation stay as resilient as possible when it occurs. By evaluating your team, you can continually improve on the areas that need most work, this reiterates the importance of a post exercise meeting.
  • Competition: When you have two departments or teams work through the same scenario but compete against each other, you will identify whose situational awareness needs work, and be able to communicate this to key stakeholders so they can support you too.

Take the First Step, Get the Resource that Helps

The advantages to tabletop exercises are many. They will bring together heads of lines of business and leaders of business processes to understand structure and communications for the organisation’s readiness. Realistic scenarios presented in war gaming will provide low-stress, engaging situations for your team to respond to.

If you are new to tabletop exercises and war gaming scenarios, it’s ineffective to jump straight into the exercise and assume it’ll turn out positively for you and your colleagues. Learning the fundamentals from credible content should be your first step, then designing a scenario that is relevant to your organisation the next. At PreparedEx we’ve compiled many articles, essays, and blogs on ways you can begin your journey, or, improve on the one you’re already on by learning from industry leaders. The best place to start is to download Rob Burton’s Ebook on The Five Steps to Creating Tabletop Exercises.

This is an Ebook that is easy to follow and allows you to fully understand the processes in creating and implementing effective exercises. Learn about the importance of pre-exercise planning and how you can communicate your objectives with stakeholders; scenario and exercise design that is relevant and memorable; and final exercise preparations, exercise delivery and evaluation as well as the steps and communication you need to make post exercise. Consider war gaming today for your organisation and begin to understand how to remain prepared even in the most challenging situations.