Create and Nurture Preparedness/Adaptability with Tactical Decision Games and Decision Making Critiques

A LESC Discourse: Establishing the Discipline to Train and Invest in Preparedness is an ongoing series of articles discussing training and preparedness, learning, unlearning and relearning to develop insight, innovation and initiative to deal with conventional and unconventional problems and threats.

“The emergence of forth generation warfare (4GW) demands rapid adaptive decisions from all levels, while understanding the commanders intent, not two, but three levels higher and even further, up to the strategic level. 4GW also means that knowing how to fight is not enough. ~MAJ Donald Vandergriff-Manning the Future Legions of the United States

Highly effective method of training that develops rapid decision making is a tool called the tactical decision game (TDG) or decision making exercise (DME). This is a critical piece of MAJ Don Vandergriff’s training methodology with the military. and which he writes about in his book “Raising the Bar creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal With the Changing Face of War.” He has achieved great results in using these games to develop decision makers who will demonstrate adaptability in combat. He has received great feedback from those serving overseas to the benefits of the TDG’s in creating decision makers performing for high stakes and under high pressure.

Tactical decision games are situational exercises on paper representing a snap shot in time. A scenario is handed out that describes a problem related to your profession (law enforcement, security, military, business, etc). The facilitator sets a short time limit for you to come up with a solution to the problem presented. The TDGs can be conducted individually or in a group setting. As soon as time is up, with the facilitator using “time hacks”, an individual or group is told to present their course of action. What you did and why? It is important that individuals or groups working together are candid and honest in their responses. You’re only fooling yourself to do otherwise. The lesson learned from the TDGs can make you more effective and safe in the performance of your job. The time to develop the strength of character and the courage to make decisions comes here, in the training environment. Mistakes can be made here that do not cost a life and valuable lessons are learned.

The key here is the facilitator/instructor whose job it is to insure responses are brought out and lessons are learned from the scenario. This can be done while working. I know because we have used them on my department and I have used them training security companies. It takes some effort, but can indeed be done.

The TDGs are effective at developing decision making in the field. In the few years we used TGDs in the Walpole police department, officers went from the initial thought of what are we doing this for? To getting involved and discussing strategy and tactics necessary to resolving the problem faced in the TDG setting. This evolved to applying what was learned, to the street under pressure. Tactical response and approaches to calls, communications, utilization of tactical basics such as; contact/cover principle and cover and concealment, approach strategies, perimeter containment and overall officer safety improved greatly utilizing these short scenarios. Knowledge of laws and policy and procedure improved by utilizing decision making exercises to fit legal and policy questions.

This simple tool works and works well. I use the term simple tool but, make no mistake, its work implementing and conducting these exercises. Developing scenarios and insuring appropriate lessons are learned takes thought and innovation to insure proper training is taking place. The instructor/facilitator needs to understand his job, is to draw out answers, not give them out. I must emphasize this point because; I have made that mistake in conducting the exercises. The goal is to make “decision makers” and “innovators”, not give answers, directions and create followers; we have enough of that in our professions already.

The TDGs are about developing individual, initiative driven frontline leaders who can make decisions that meet the mission of the agency. “TDGs are used to teach leaders how to think and to train and reinforce established ways of doing something, such as task training. The techniques can be traced back at least to the Chinese general and military theorist Sun Tzu, who was advocating their use more than 2,500 years ago.” (Vandergriff, From Swift To Swiss Tactical Decision Games and Their Place in Military Education and Performance Improvement, 2006 )

Decision Making Critiques/After Action Reviews

The decision making critique (DMC) or after action review (AAR) is another critical component to developing decision makers. The AAR is conducted after the decisions are made and actions taken. Then candidly discuss events and decisions amongst the group (all ranks) involved in the incident to bring out lessons learned. . The facilitator keys on two aspects of the incident, was the decision made in a timely manner? What was the rationale of the individual or group in making their decision?

I have utilized these methods and the powerful lessons that are learned from reviewing and critiquing a crisis situation you were actually involved in is a better than most formal training you can get. Why? Because you were there and experienced the circumstances first hand and then sat down and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the response. From these lessons learned comes a recognition of patterns, changes in patterns (anomalies) and adaptability is developed. This reinforcement stimulates initiative driven decisions and actions and continued adaptation to new threats and problems. After Action reviews help develop communication, trust and unit cohesion and helps in a team approach to developing best practices in a variety of situations. A key component to remember in conducting both TDGS and AAR is a candid open dialog, in an effort to learn. Anything less and you are only fooling yourself.

Conclusion...Are We Ready?

If individual, organization and interagency effectiveness is what we are truly looking for we must take what we know about ourselves, our organizations and the problems and threats we face, including knowledge of those criminals and extremist mindsets that threaten our society and way of life. This assessment should bring about questions; who is more serious about success, us or them? Whose doing more to prepare, us or them? Who is actively utilizing and developing new ideas to out think and out smart and out maneuver the adversary, us or them? Who is utilizing people, ideas, information, intelligence and technology and creativity at a more successful rate, us or them? Who has inspired individual initiative in their followers, us or them? Who is prepared for game day, us or them? Who is committed to win? Is it us or them?

Any given Sunday is game day for a kid’s game and they come prepared and committed to play and give their all to win. Any given DAY at any given TIME could be our game day and the stakes are much, much higher. Are we truly prepared? Think about it deeply and honestly because “how you think about the future determines what you do in the future!”

“Invest in preparedness, not prediction…I will never get to know the unknown since, by definition, it is unknown. However, I can always guess how it might affect me, and I should base my decisions around that…you always control what you do, so make this your end”. ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb ~The Black Swan; The Impact of the Highly Improbable