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.
After an emergency, when everyone has given 120% and saved the company, thank them in some way they will never forget. It will be the best investment you ever made. Top Next Issue
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:
- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
- Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources.
Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
- Design Errors and Groupthink
- Design errors cause losses, lost opportunities, accidents, and injuries. Not all design errors are one-offs,
because their causes can be fundamental. Here's a first installment of an exploration of some fundamental
causes of design errors.
- Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
- Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops."
Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops
- Defect Streams and Their Sources
- Regarding defects as elements of a stream provides a perspective that aids in identifying causes other
than negligence. Examples of root causes are unfunded mandates, misallocation of the cost of procedure
competence, and frequent changes in procedures.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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