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Managing crisis effectively in remote teams

Managing crisis effectively in remote teams

20 May 2021|Crisis Management, Latest Posts

Managing crisis effectively in remote teams
Managing crisis effectively in remote teams

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

Crisis management is an important 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, which has been clearly demonstrated by the unprecedented ongoing pandemic and the knock-on effects of it across the world.

As a result of stay-at-home orders across the globe, 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 to crisis, whether large scale or not, each business should have in place a tailored set of 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 managing crises within teams, I’ve developed a template for the top actions to take when an issue unfolds, no matter the industry, which can be adapted and scaled, no matter the problem.

1. 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.”

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

2. 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 symptoms that are known

· the impact on the users and the business

· the potential risk of an even worse situation

Post-debrief the team that has been collaborating to understand the issue and its effects should continue working together to manage the resolution. Keeping the team 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.

3. Communicate

Now more than ever, while remote working is the norm, consistent and clear communication throughout the resolution process is key. A crisis can create a lot of anxiety in the workplace so as well as reassuring the assigned crisis team regularly, communication to the wider organisation should be upheld to manage possible concerns. Updates should be given as often as necessary and consist of the following:

· Updates on progress made

· Assurance the business can assist with anything that is needed by employees, and who to go to if you need it

· Communicating the status to respective stakeholders

If these lines of communication between the leadership team, the wider organisation and its stakeholders are implemented, there should be immediate evidence of increased employee, stakeholder and client trust, which helps stabilise the situation.

4. Find the root cause

Once the crisis has been stabilised, 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, but in thinking about smaller crises that arise in operations – issues in software, poor client service, processes not being followed – there is usually a cause leadership teams can pinpoint. In the same manner as dealing with the crisis, the leadership team should look to employ those softer skills to manage this.

Leadership teams can us a number of 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 problem, are all team members trained appropriately?

· Do we have enough resource within our team, or was the problem caused by a lack of manpower?

5. Learn from what happened

A team is not strong 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.

It is essential after a crisis for the team to take some well-earned time out, celebrate the resolution and spend time reflecting on what happened and why, in order 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.

Successful teams, whether in finance or in the arts industry, at-base or remote, have agility at their core. But when a crisis appears it is easy for the once structured team to enter its own crisis and 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 to learn from the process to avoid future crisis.