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Felipe Polo, a digital entrepreneur, non-executive director and investor, shares his top five tips for effective crisis management for teams in a remote setting. 

Crisis management is an essential skill that leadership teams need to harness in all industries. Whether you operate in retail or technology, professional services or manufacturing, your business operations are always at risk of a crisis. This is demonstrated by the unprecedented ongoing pandemic and the knock-on effects across the world. 

As a result of stay-at-home orders worldwide, businesses closed their doors on a scale never seen before 2020. Organisations and their client bases had to re-evaluate their operations in totality; reviewing capital expenditure on an unparalleled scale. Making monthly, weekly, and sometimes daily updates to projections and plans to stem the effects of the crisis. To ensure resilience, whether large scale or not, each business should have in place a tailored set of crisis management processes to identify symptoms and potential fallout, devise a plan to tackle, and where possible, eradicate the cause of the crisis. In the current climate, organisations must be able to do all of this remotely.

Using my experience of crisis management within teams, I’ve developed a template of actions to take when an issue unfolds. It works no matter the industry, which can be adapted and scaled, no matter the problem. 

Show the right meta-skills

Gustavo Razzetti defines a meta-skill as “master skill that magnifies and activates other skills. A meta-skill is a high order skill that allows you to engage with functional expertise more effectively. It’s a catalyst for learning and building new skills faster.”

These meta-skills encompass a set of soft skills and competencies that should mobilise team performance, especially in a crisis. Leadership teams will need to display these soft skills in abundance when dealing with the problem. Understand that employee tensions and anxieties may be high. Humility, composure, a calm demeanour, and empathy will go a long way in allaying a team’s fears and giving them the confidence to drive through the problem. 

Bring the right people in

After getting together and acknowledging the issue, the leadership team should pause their existing activity to focus entirely on the problem. At this point, these team members should debrief on all aspects of the issue, including;

  • the known symptoms
  • the impact on the users and the business
  • the potential risk of an even worse situation

Post-debrief, the team that collaborated to understand the issue and its effects should continue working together to manage the resolution. Keeping the group small and, in a sense, isolated and concentrated, reduces company-wide panic and ensures the best people for the job are working on it and lines of communication are tight.

Communicate

Now more than ever, while remote working is the norm, consistent and clear communication throughout the resolution process is critical. A crisis can create much anxiety in the workplace. Also, reassuring the assigned crisis team regularly, uphold communication to the wider organisation to manage possible concerns. Give updates as often as necessary and consist of the following:

  • Updates on progress made
  • Assurance that business can assist with employee needs, and whom to go to if you need it
  • Communicating the status to respective stakeholders 

Suppose you implement these lines of communication between the leadership team, the wider organisation and its stakeholders. In that case, there should be direct evidence of increased employee, stakeholder and client trust, which helps stabilise the situation.

Find the root cause

Once you have stabilised the crisis, now is the time to identify the cause of it. Of course, with the global pandemic, the cause is largely irrelevant for businesses tackling the fallout. Still, in thinking about smaller crises that arise in operations – issues in software, poor client service, processes not being followed – there is usually a cause that leadership teams can pinpoint. As when dealing with the crisis, the leadership team should employ those softer skills to manage this.

Leadership teams can use several tactics to identify the root cause of the problem, but you should be asking:

  • Do we have outdated legacy systems that need updating? 
  • Was there a potential miscommunication that led to the problem, and where was this?
  • Do we have a training structure in place that would have mitigated the issue, are all team members trained appropriately?
  • Do we have enough resource within our team, or was the problem caused by a lack of people?

Learn from what happened

A team is not healthy because it avoids failure, but rather because it can learn from it, fix it and prevent it in the future. Without failure, there is no growth.

After a crisis, the team needs to take some well-earned time out, celebrate the resolution, and spend time reflecting on what happened and why. This helps to learn and develop to prevent future incidents. A productive way to format this final step is by hosting a virtual post-mortem meeting. The meeting’s agenda will enable the team to share experiences in a safe and productive space. 

Whether in finance or the arts industry, at-base or remote, successful teams have agility at their core. When a crisis occurs, it is easy for the once structured team to risk the job-at-hand multiplying in severity. By identifying the problem, assigning the best team to manage it, and fighting fires in siloed stages, teams are more likely to find a smoother resolution and learn from the process to avoid future crises. 

Felipe Polo, Co-Chairman and Founder of GuideSmiths, has over 15 years’ experience in building high-performance teams internationally, transforming organisations through digital products and modern software delivery processes, helping organisations align their tech, teams and business strategy.