Leading Response and Recovery Teams (Part 1)

Avalution Team Avalution Team | Aug 04, 2014

In our experience, one of the most difficult roles to fulfill in any business continuity program is the team leader responsible for a cross-functional response and recovery team (often called a crisis management team, a department business recovery team, or an IT disaster recovery team).  This is because the team leader faces three significant challenges:

  1. These teams are cross-functional, which means every person brings their expertise, as well as their opinions and personal agendas for response and recovery;
  2. The person leading does not, necessarily, have direct authority over all members of the team, especially on crisis management teams, even though the team leader may be a level or two higher than the other team members; and
  3. A disruptive incident is inherently chaotic, but the response needs to be structured, so the team leader is tasked with getting the team to bring order to the chaos and executing an effective response and recovery.

Team leaders play a critical role in improving business continuity for their organizations but seldom receive the appropriate training to help them understand the differences between day-to-day leadership and crisis leadership following the onset of a disruptive incident.

This perspective is the first in a three-part series and addresses how to develop the skills necessary for being a successful leader in a crisis, including how a team leader can set the team’s purpose and bring order to the chaos that ensues following the onset of a disruption.  These two foundational team leader behaviors will help response and recovery team leaders elicit the best possible performance of the team (as well as themselves).

Define the Team’s Purpose and a Vision of the Future
Upon assuming this position, the first action a leader needs to take is to set the purpose of the team – and in response to a disruptive incident, leadership is no different.  The purpose helps the leader set a clear vision of what the future looks like for the team and the broader organization.  Teams without a vision can wander from issue to issue and delay making decisions – and when faced with a disruptive incident, this could mean a delayed recovery and unnecessary impact to the organization and its interested parties.  However, a team with a clear vision that drives the team’s purpose can easily:

  1. Keep the discussion on track, focusing on important issues and deferring unimportant, time-consuming issues until they need to be addressed;
  2. Make decisions when they are needed without unnecessary delays; and
  3. Agree to set aside individual goals to achieve team goals.

Although the vision for a response and recovery team can seem obvious, team leaders may have a difficult time bridging the gap between setting the team’s purpose as “a successful recovery” and the details of what a successful recovery looks like (which, by the way, should generally be understood well before a disruptive incident takes place).  Ultimately, an unclear vision can lead team members to pursue their own definition of a successful recovery leading to lost time and wasted effort.  The team leader must ask (and seek advice from the team on):

  • What are the priorities for recovery based on our current situation?
  • When must each activity be recovered to minimize the impact on the organization?
  • What needs to happen before we can stand down the recovery team?
  • How will we define success and how will the organization view our performance?

The answers to these questions vary among organizations and can even vary among recovery teams within an organization.  But a successful team leader will define a strong, clear, unifying purpose for the team.  For example:

  • A manufacturing department may define their purpose as protecting the health and safety of employees and visitors, preserving the company’s reputation for high quality manufacturing techniques, maintaining effective and clear communications with internal and external stakeholders to minimize damage to our relationships with stakeholders, and recovering manufacturing activities within two days at 60% operating capacity to meet its most important customer expectations.
  • An IT disaster recovery team for an application may define their purpose as recovering a critical application within one hour, with no more than 15 minutes of data loss, and with complete processing integrity to minimize the impact to their internal customers and the company as a whole.
  • A non-profit charity may define success as resuming delivery of meals to their constituents before the next meal.

Regardless, the vision needs to be clear, concise, and easy to communicate both internally and externally to the team.

The team leader and the team can work together, in advance of a disruption, to create the team’s vision. A business impact analysis helps identify recovery requirements and planning activities and provides a structure for implementing a process to meet those requirements.  However, a team leader should never just assume that the recovery requirements are still valid and, instead, work to identify any changes to priorities at the onset of a disruption.  Once the vision is established, the team leader needs to work to align the team to achieving the vision.

To achieve a successful recovery, all team members need to be working towards the same goal.  When a team does not have a clear vision and strong leadership, team members may act on what they, as individuals, feel is the best course of action.  The lack of alignment could even lead to team members taking actions which contradict the actions of other team members and paralyze the team.  In essence, when a team has a vague vision, each team member defines that vision using their own frame of reference rather than taking a broader perspective.  These team members are not necessarily acting out of malice or in an effort to damage the progress of the team, but are often acting in the best way to implement what they view as a successful recovery.

The team leader can take two primary actions to align members to the team’s purpose:

  1. Engage team members in setting/changing priorities; and
  2. Confirm expectations of team members at the onset of a disruption (during the first and second team meetings).

Team leaders should engage in a dialog with the team to identify changes in priorities as well as elicit concerns about recovery.  Team members should be expected to listen to everyone’s perspective and agree to the team’s purpose even if it is not what he/she proposed.  In addition, the team leader should take time in the initial meetings of the team to set (or confirm) the expectations of each team member.  These expectations should include:

  • When does an individual make a decision versus when does the team make a decision?
  • How will disagreements be handled when they arise?
  • Who has the right to provide their opinion on decisions even if they are not included in the decision making process?

When the team leader defines the purpose and vision of the team and aligns team members to that purpose, response and recovery efforts are far more likely to succeed.  As business continuity practitioners, we need to work with each team leader to discuss the behaviors we will need and expect from them during a disruption, provide them with the opportunity to practice those behaviors, and rely on them to exhibit those behaviors during a disruption.

All organizations rely on team leaders and the response and recovery teams they lead to effectively manage the response and recovery process.  This perspective identified ways team leaders can ensure their teams work effectively and efficiently by defining the team’s purpose.

In Part 2 of this series, we address how team leaders can help the team to manage the chaos and anxiety that comes with a disruptive incident.

Business continuity and IT disaster recovery planning is all that we do. If you’re looking for help with building or improving your business continuity program, we can help.

Please contact us today to get started. We look forward to hearing from you!


Greg Marbais
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting


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