Leading a Team through a Crisis

Wed, 2015-10-21 11:53 -- tomjonez


One of the (many) challenges leaders face is dealing with “crisis” events that affect the emotional climate of their organization. Such events can include the serious illness of a team member, loss of life of one of their team, or even external local, regional, or national events (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.). When such factors invade the stability of the organization there are several tools that have been developed by professionals that can allow the leadership of the enterprise to help their people process the events that have affected them, and therefore allow the function of the organization to begin to normalize once again.

Accordingly this week, I will look at a method of not only keeping people informed when a “crisis” has occurred… but which also can allow individuals who are part of the group to begin to move back in the direction of normalcy.

There are four stages to the communication and process strategy that has worked well in such situations:

Gather the People: Though it may seem simple, step one is to bring people together. This can be done physically where people are naturally co-located or, in geographically diverse organizations, it can include the use of video or audio communication tools.  The idea is to get people in the same “space,” and to do so physically if possible.

Provide the Facts: Step two is to have a person with high organizational credibility provide a run-down of the facts of the “crisis.” This step is the “who, what, when, where, and how” aspect of providing factual information (to the level of what is actually known at the point the gathering is held). The person presenting this information should stick to the facts, not speculate, and if appropriate answer questions. The key: State the Facts – and only the facts.

Summarize Common Reactions: There are common reactions that people have when there is a crisis. These can include anxiety, nervousness, fear, anger, confusion, and/or physiological elements such as sleeplessness, sweating, hypertension, and so forth. Inform the group that such reaction(s) may (or may not) be present for individual members of the group.  Let them know that such responses are the normal reactions by normal people to abnormal events.  Letting people know that their responses to such events is “normal” can lower the temperature of the emotional climate of the team - and allow individuals to begin to get on with their life and responsibilities.

Provide Options: It is clear that most of us in leadership are not properly equipped to professionally handle the mental and emotional needs of those we lead.  Therefore, since additional follow-up may be warranted for individuals who are members of our team, it is advisable to provide them with a number of options that they may choose to pursue such as professional counselors, pastoral resources, or other peer-support alternatives.  As a step of preparation, it may be worth taking a bit of time to identify such resources in advance of a crisis event so that we have these on hand when needed.

In short, there are times when crisis events will occur.  It is therefore a wise action step to have a plan in mind for how to deal with such events before the need to do so arrises.  The above four process steps provide a starting point for our use as leaders in the event that out organization encounters a crisis event.