Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 34;   August 22, 2001:

Declaring Condition Red

by

High-performance teams have customary ways of working together that suit them, their organizations, and their work. But when emergencies happen, operating in business-as-usual mode damages teams — and the relationships between their people — permanently. To avoid this, train for emergencies.

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.

Hurricane Warning flagsUsually, 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Take Regular Temperature Readings  Next Issue

101 Tips for Communication in EmergenciesIn 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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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When we assess the costs of different options for solving a problem, we must take care not to commit a variety of errors in approach. These errors can lead to flawed decisions. One activity at risk for error is comparing the costs of two options. Available here and by RSS on January 27.
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When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions. Available here and by RSS on February 3.

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