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 USD 19.95. Order Now! .
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More articles on Project Management:
- Emergency Problem Solving
- In emergencies, group problem solving is unusually challenging, especially if lives, careers, or companies
depend on finding a solution immediately. Here are some tips for members of teams that are solving problems
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: III
- Some of what we "know" about managing projects just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of
project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
- Publish an Internal Newsletter
- If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is
important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.
- On the Risk of Undetected Issues: II
- When things go wrong and remain undetected, trouble looms. We continue our efforts, increasing investment
on a path that possibly leads nowhere. Worse, time — that irreplaceable asset — passes.
How can we improve our ability to detect undetected issues?
- 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.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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