Most of my professional life has been spent building crisis management teams either whilst as the team leader of police specialist firearms teams or latterly with private sector clients. You might think that those two environments and the people who form them have nothing in common but what I have found is that they are just the same. The only difference is the crisis context and the peoples everyday occupational skill sets.
When training crisis or response teams I regularly draw on the experiences of the great sports team philosophies and their exceptional leaders.
The start of any team begins with the selection of its members. The raw team members must have two essential qualities summed up in an equation used by the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union Team coaches: Performance = Capability + Behaviour.
No matter how capable your team are without the right attitude it just won’t work. The Kiwi’s also talk about the desire to want to be a team member and in my new environment this is a constant headache with team members often being there because they are told to be there. Converting disbelievers into effective team members takes time but is all about connecting personal meaning to a higher purpose, in this case the crisis, which leads to belief and a sense of direction.
The impact of a ‘leader’ in the early stages of team development or a crisis situation cannot be underestimated. The Psychologist Bruce Tuckman identified that the leader must move through various activities over time including directing, coaching, enabling and eventually in the Performing Stage to delegating and overseeing.
Tom Peters the management guru adds to the leadership responsibilities and says that, great leaders do not create followers they create more leaders. This is achieved within the team by passing on responsibility, creating ownership, accountability and trust. The All Blacks call this ‘pass the ball’, and by creating a team with its own in-built leaders, when under pressure team members step up and take responsibility, which is truly effective in times of uncertainty and crisis.
And the way to bring all these ideas together is by practice. Muhammad Ali wrote that fights are won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out on the road, well before I dance under the lights. In business, training is often seen as a distraction limited to an occasional away-day. However, effective crisis management training should be regular, repetitious and intensive.
Finally, the key to building a successful crisis management capability rests with the organisations culture and whether as the academic Mitroff observed, what kind of an organisation do you want to be one that is ‘crisis prone’ or ‘crisis prepared’.