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Introduce Conflict into your Tabletop Exercise



Patrick Lencioni is one of my favorite authors and management advisors, primarily for his no-nonsense style of organizational leadership. He wrote a book in 2004 that became an instant classic in business circles, called Death by Meeting. In this leadership fable, Lencioni addresses the question of why so many people would rather stick their finger in a rotating fan than go to some team meetings. One of the critical elements to keep participants on their toes is conflict. Meetings become more interesting if you expect tough discussion on issues that really matter.


So what does conflict have to do with the execution of incident response, business continuity, or disaster drills and exercises? Everything!


The goals of these exercises are to validate your incident response, business continuity, and disaster recovery plans, but also to test your team’s ability to handle difficult situations and manage through a crisis. Conflict enhances stress and creates more realistic simulations. It encourages team members to take sides. It makes the team sweat. And it will result in an exercise that is remembered long after its completion.


My personal philosophy on designing and facilitating tabletop exercises for organizations is to introduce a significant amount of conflict into the scenario to force the team to work through key decisions.


Below are some ways that you can create conflict in your business continuity and disaster drills:

  • Simulate the sudden absence of a key leader to see how other members of the team manage the scenario

  • Introduce personal conflict such as a family crisis simultaneously with a team member’s work responsibility, forcing them to choose and delegate

  • Include regulatory compliance deadlines with surprise calls from real government agencies

  • Incorporate creepy details, such as simulating a stalker scenario for a particular team member

  • After reviewing the plans to be tested, target specific gaps or known weaknesses as part of the scenario


If you inject intentional conflict into your next tabletop exercise, your team will enjoy it and will learn more in the process, thereby enhancing your level of readiness.