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:
- Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions
- In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple
question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question.
Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
- Why Scope Expands: I
- Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction,
has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
- Unresponsive Suppliers: I
- If we depend on suppliers for some tasks in a project, or for necessary materials, their performance
can affect our ability to meet deadlines. What can we do when a supplier's performance is problematic,
and the supplier doesn't respond to our increasingly urgent pleas for attention?
- Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure
of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can
determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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