Playing the match of our lives – Crisis management is a team effort

How it’s supposed to go…

Most businesses have a standard way of operating – a value chain. The customer learns about a supplier through some form of commercial exposure, for example an advertisement (PR department). When he’s interested and contacts the company, he’s directed to the sales department. After the deal is done, his product may be prepared by the product development unit. When the product is ready, his case is handed over to operations, who delivers the desired product. When the product is delivered, the finance department handles the invoice and payment. Somewhere down the line maintenance keeps the company running, as does the facilities manager. There are many variations on this example, but every company has some form of standardized procedure.
Maybe colleagues at the end of the value chain only meet the colleagues from the beginning of the chain at the lunch table, but never actually do business together.

Until…

Until this well-organized chain is disrupted by a crisis. All of a sudden, the process does not longer follow the pre-defined chain. The crisis demands attention of every department in the company. Now. Simultaneously. Forcing colleagues to work together that generally never do this. Forcing critical decisions to be made by an ad hoc group of people that don’t know each other very well (except for what they like to eat for lunch). Different departments have different specialisms and may speak different “languages” (e.g. tech talk), may have different viewpoints on a different frame of reference. And… they may actually have different interests. Time pressure and high stakes do not allow for the ad hoc team to get acquainted with each other or their respective methodologies. They have to perform. Now. Like never before.

Meet our ad hoc soccer team

It’s like a random bunch of athletes (a swimmer, a runner, a pole vaulter, a drag racer, a chess player etc.) who meet each other for the first time after the opening whistle, and suddenly finding out they have to win a soccer match against an unpredictable opponent who does not play by the conventional rules and who has already started making goals. I’m not a professional sports critic, but I think the bookmakers will bet against our ad hoc team.

How can we make our ad hoc team of specialists stand a fair chance of winning this unexpected match?
Well, the clue lies in the word “unexpected”. If we acknowledge the fact that they may eventually have to play this soccer match, and losing is not an option, we can come up with a strategy. Having the team meet each other and saying out loud that they are to win a soccer match somewhere in the future, may rise a bit of awareness. That’s step 1.

Step 2 will be informing our ad hoc soccer team what they can expect in a soccer match. We’ll have to introduce concepts such as “Ball” to the swimmer and runner, and we’ll have to explain what off-site is to the drag racer. We’ll have to show the chess player that he’ll perform best as coach, and not as last man.

Step 3. Let them play a couple of training games against each other to make them into a medium-well scoring team.

Now, we have an advantage that may give us the edge in winning this game.
1. We have a team of specialists who perform above average in their respective specialisms. If we utilize this in a predefined and well-structured way, we may actually have a very strong team.
2. As stated above our opponent, the crisis, is not likely to play by the rules. So, neither are we. We can actually win the match by scoring a couple of times before the whistle blows.
In a soccer match, this is not considered to be fair: scoring before our opponent has even reached the stadium. In a crisis, we don’t have to treat our opponent fairly.

Step 4. Dig in. We have to win, even if it means that we have to dig trenches in the soccer field and bar our goal with an iron fence. If we prepare the field and our team in the months before the game, we may actually have a chance of winning. If our well-barred goal remains empty, and we introduce a 2nd and 3rd ball while our opponent is bogged down in one of our trenches, we just may get one in where it counts.
We may be tired, scratched and dirty, but otherwise unhurt. The prize is customer retention and an unscratched-still standing reputation that allows us to continue what we do best: swimming, running and playing chess.

There’s just two things we have to do:
1. Acknowledge the fact that maybe, one day, we’ll have to play the game of our lives.
2. Get the team together and have them fence off our goal.

The only thing that can happen to us now, is that the whistle never blows and we don’t have to play the game. In that case, we’ve spent our time on a very effective teambuilding event…

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