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 second in a three-part series that 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 elicit the best possible performance of the team (as well as themselves).
In the first part of this series, we discussed how leaders of response and recovery teams need to define the purpose for their team and a vision of the future. Following a disruptive incident, the organization’s employees face uncertainty: uncertainty about their safety and the safety of their loved ones, uncertainty about the future of their jobs, and uncertainty about how to get back to normal. Employees facing uncertainty feel increased stress and fear, which decreases productivity and can delay the recovery of important activities. To keep employees productive and working towards the team’s vision, a leader must bring order to the chaos.
Bring Order to Chaos
In the moments following a disruptive incident, the situation can be chaotic and team members will be pulled in many directions. A good team leader helps individuals cope with the chaos and focus their efforts on productive activity. Further, team leaders need to understand that team members will handle stress and uncertainty in different ways – some team members may naturally work effectively during times of chaos and uncertainty but others will not.
Team members who tend to panic or speak in an overly negative manner could harm the morale of other team members and need to be reeled in. This doesn’t mean the team should overlook negative aspects of the current situation; rather, they should acknowledge the negative and identify ways to overcome those factors. It’s the difference between saying:
“A critical piece of equipment was destroyed and we’ll never recover.”
“A critical piece of equipment has been destroyed, which will lengthen our recovery time, so we need to identify what to do in the interim.”
A leader who ignores the negative aspects of a situation can be seen as out of touch with the current situation. A good team leader will encourage identifying problems while at the same time discourage pessimism. The team leader needs to acknowledge that the situation is not ideal while getting the team to acknowledge that a successful recovery is possible. Although this concept may seem contradictory, the difference between realistically seeing the situation and pessimism is the time horizon in your (and your team’s) perspective. Realistically seeing the situation means looking at the facts as they are today. Pessimism expands the time horizon to examine the facts as they are today and extends that through the future. Team members with a pessimistic outlook often overlay a lack of control of the future on top of a negative events leaving themselves and the team with a sense of helplessness.
The uncertainty resulting from a disruptive incident increases stress for everyone involved. A strong leader helps the team manage its reaction to the stress. For example, don’t let people get too negative/pessimistic, shut down or avoid making decisions, or feel like they are in this alone. When a team member behaves consistently with a pessimistic outlook, the team leader needs to work with the individual to realize how his/her behavior negatively impacts the team. The team leader’s role is to help the individual recognize that he/she can overcome negative feelings and work productively with the team towards a positive outcome. During those one-on-one meetings, the team leader should discuss the following:
- How his/her behavior is negatively impacting other team members – it is unlikely the team member wants to see the team fail or fully understands how his/her negative attitude slows the progress of the team;
- That you understand he/she is trying to bring up important ideas to the group; and
- That you are available to talk about how best to address an issue before he/she brings it up to the team.
The team leader reduces team members’ sense of chaos resulting from a disruptive incident by keeping the team focused on the achieving the team’s purpose and creating the team’s vision.
The team leader allows team members to express their points of view but not to divert the team from its purpose. Team members will buy-into the team’s decisions when they feel that they have been heard and that the process for making decisions is transparent and fair. The team leader may need to reign in certain team members because they push their own agenda and divert the team away from its goal. A good team leader will not allow members to continue to complain following a decision by:
- Listening and repeating the team member’s point of view back to him/her (to show them you understand and make sure that what you heard is what they’re saying);
- Conveying that the situation is constantly changing and there may come a time to change the strategy/method to what he/she is proposing;
- Explaining that everyone on the team needs to focus on executing what the team (and/or team leader) has decided to do; and
- Reinforce that, although the team made a different decision, the team still needs everyone to help realize the vision.
The team leader needs to assist the team in distinguishing between facts (things that are known to be true) and everything else (opinions, assumptions, predictions, etc.). When the situation is full of uncertainty, team members may present opinions, assumptions, and/or predictions as facts rather than what they really are. The team leader should be assertive when pressing the team members on distinguishing between facts and everything else. Just because there are few facts doesn’t mean a decision should be delayed. You can make decisions based on opinions, assumptions, and predictions but the team needs to acknowledge they may be untrue. And when opinions, assumptions, and predictions change due to new information or changes in the situation, the team leader should press the team to reconsider decisions that were made based on those factors and be ready to move the team in a different direction.
Finally, the team leader helps the team to make decisions and move the response and recovery effort forward using a defined structure. Team members will handle the chaos better when they know a process is in place to respond to and recover from a disruptive incident. Business continuity and IT disaster recovery plans help to bring structure to the response and recovery process. A team leader can use the following questions to structure the response to a disruptive incident and minimize the chaos:
- What decisions need to be made? When do they need to be made?
- What information do we possess to make the decision(s)?
- What information do we still need to obtain/investigate before making a decision?
- What is our decision?
Team leaders play an important role in the response and recovery process following a disruption by helping the team act swiftly to achieve the team’s vision. As business continuity practitioners, we need to help the team leaders in our organizations understand that people may behave differently during a disruption than they do during their normal day-to-day work. And while not all chaos can be managed, the team leader can help to provide structure and purpose to the actions of the team, which will reduce the anxiety that comes with a disruption.
One important item to note… During some disruptions, mainly where a team member’s family or personal lives are impacted, our team leaders need to recognize that they may not be able to help manage the anxiety that team members feel. The team leader needs to be able to monitor and assess when a team member should be replaced with an alternate so he/she can focus on personal matters rather than the organization’s response and recovery.
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 help their teams manage the chaos and anxiety that comes with a disruptive incident. In the next perspective for team leaders, we will address how team leaders can facilitate adaptability among their team members and how team leaders can tie it all together.
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