A team emergency is an unforeseen situation that requires immediate, decisive action. It can arise from almost any sudden change, including the discovery of a serious design or manufacturing flaw; a reduction of budget or other resources; a competitive threat; or the loss of key personnel.
Usually, teams search for emergency responses using their normal, meeting-upon-endless-meeting work style. But since most emergencies demand immediate responses, team members can become frustrated, anxious, and fearful when their usual approach fails them. Interpersonal conflict erupts, people begin to attack or withdraw, and they might even hurt each other emotionally. In emergencies, permanent damage both to teams and to relationships is common.
Much of the conflict we see in teams originates during unacknowledged emergency situations. If we can learn to acknowledge emergencies, we can temporarily restructure our processes, and eliminate some sources of interpersonal conflict.
You'll do better if you have a plan. Here are some guidelines for preserving your high-performance team as it deals with emergencies.
- Formally declare the emergency
- Formally declaring "Condition Red" lets everyone know that the usual procedures are suspended, and emergency procedures are in effect. This protects you from long-term precedents that might otherwise persist after the emergency. When the emergency passes, formally declare its passing, too.
- Choose an appropriate decision-making process
- If you don't have a plan,
you can't follow it
- Consensus usually produces the best decisions, but consensus takes time. In an emergency, use a more centralized process — perhaps one with a single authoritative decision maker. See "Decisions, Decisions: I," Point Lookout for November 17, 2004, for a catalog of decision-making processes.
- Think short-term
- In emergencies, long-term optimizations become irrelevant when compared with short-term survival. Shift to a shorter-term perspective. If you normally think about this quarter, think about this week. If you normally think about this week, think about today. Failing to think short-term is an important source of conflict and failure in emergencies.
- Train and simulate
- Train your team. In simulations, they can practice emergency procedures, and learn what emergencies feel like. Make emergencies familiar territory.
- Delegate more deeply
- To reduce frustration, temporarily delegate authority more deeply into the organization. In emergencies, raise spending authority thresholds and reduce the number of sign-offs required.
- Relax cost controls
- There's little point to saving $23k when $2.3 billion is at stake. If you normally don't feed or house your team, consider doing so. If you already do, upgrade what you do for them. Offer compensatory time off and combat pay.
- Never cry wolf
- Reserve your emergency plan for emergencies. A bone-headed project plan that fails miserably isn't an emergency — it's a bad plan. Take responsibility for it — don't shift the burden to the team by declaring an emergency.
In a single day, you can witness the final hours of a brand that took ten years to build. Or you can see it re-emerge stronger than ever. From Tylenol to JetBlue — no brand is exempt. And the outcome depends not only on what you say to the public, but on how well you communicate internally — to each other. 101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies is filled with tips for sponsors of, leaders of, and participants in emergency management teams. It helps readers create an environment in which teams can work together, under pressure from outside stakeholders, in severely challenging circumstances, while still maintaining healthy relationships with each other. That's the key to effective communication in emergencies. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .
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More articles on Project Management:
- The Cheapest Way to Run a Project Is with Enough Resources
- Cost reduction is so common that nearly every project plan today should include budget and schedule
for several rounds of reductions. Whenever we cut costs, we risk cutting too much, so it pays to ask,
"If we do cut too much, what are the consequences?"
- Dispersity Adversity
- Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse
and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face.
Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
- Long-Loop Conversations: Clearing the Fog
- In virtual or global teams, conversations can be long, painful affairs. Settling issues and clearing
misunderstandings can take weeks instead of days, or days instead of hours. Here are some techniques
that ease the way to mutual agreement and understanding.
- Yet More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded
— or failed.
- Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
- Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive
results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic
bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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