When crises strike, leaders convene crisis management teams comprised of internal experts. You know, senior managers with the requisite professional and technical expertise to deal with the critical event at hand.
A major complication with this setup, though, is that outside of the crisis context, those people don’t work together all that often. Sometimes, never at all.
What, then, can crisis leaders expect from this motley crew of experts? And how can leaders get the most out of their teams?
Looking to crisis management planning best practices will give us some answers. For starters, crisis teams of experts aren’t just groups of credentialed individuals assigned to the mission because they come from a relevant business line.
Far from it. Being effective in the crisis context requires business experts like General Counsels, IT directors, PR pros, Safety and Security chiefs to display certain qualities. Some soft qualities, some hard qualities.
What are those qualities, exactly? Well, the soft qualities include having a shared vision and values, trust in the competence and intentions of others, and a commitment to learning from what’s happening and reviewing strategies taken. The hard qualities, on the other hand, consist of understanding set roles and responsibilities, being flexible, adaptable, and cooperative, and above all else, working to achieve shared situational awareness, a common relevant picture of the incident that’s distributed and assimilated rapidly.
Of course, those qualities won’t emerge spontaneously in the midst of a crisis. Not without crisis leaders’ having first actively worked to instill them.
Indeed, we might argue that it’s one of the key duties crisis leaders must perform. And to prepare themselves, leaders should hone certain skills of their own. Those crisis leadership skills include getting in the habit of doing the following:
- Soliciting ideas and options from their teams
- Keeping the team informed at all times
- Explaining in detail the reasons a decision was taken
- Reinforcing effective teamwork
- Being open to feedback
- Celebrating success
As the list suggests, critical thinking is crucial to the enterprise of crisis management. Sure, leaders can (and do) have accomplished, experienced people on their crisis teams. But that team of experts has to be able to analyze crisis situations objectively so as to respond effectively when it matters most. The precise mechanism is by focusing on promoting better decision making not just better decisions.
Crisis leaders must stress the importance of analogous reasoning to their crisis team of experts. That type of reasoning enables teams to better examine the current situation, reflect on similar situations, then make decisions based on what worked (and what didn’t) in the past.
Indeed, practicing analogous reasoning won’t prove a cure-all for crisis teams, even teams of experts. Crisis teams must still work together to determine whether the references they’ve drawn (to previous situations) actually hold in the present. Here, again, crisis leaders play a pivotal role, empowering their team to point out weaknesses in argumentation, even if it’s a leader’s own argumentation, and then pivoting (collectively) to finding better ways to understand the crisis situation.
Remember, a crisis team has to be more than a collection of credentialed experts. Crisis leaders have it in their capacity to maximize the business acumen members bring to the crisis team. But it takes cultivating specific crisis decision-making skills, then regularly rehearsing those skills with team members.
For more tips on how to develop crisis decision making, download our free comprehensive guide: