Team-building: don’t waste a crisis

A crisis can be a golden opportunity to motivate individuals and bring a team together.

Winston Churchill is said to have observed that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Certainly, in times of stress and trouble, a true leader shows their mettle and can forge a strong team out of the most disparate collection of individuals.

It’s a theme explored by Dr Patrick Dixon, business consultant and influential business thinker, in his book ‘Building a Better Business’.

He outlines 10 simple ways in which a business leader can use a crisis to galvanise and motivate their team, and maintain focus on the important tasks they must perform to solve that crisis.

Dr Dixon’s advice is provided here by kind permission of his publisher Profile Books.

1. Tell them about it +

Take your time and tell the whole truth: what the crisis is, why it happened, why it really does matter and what steps are already being taken to try and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

If you want people to make a big effort, they need to know all the reasons for the crisis. If you've made mistakes have been made, talk about them.

2. Bring them into your confidence +

Let them see and feel for themselves what you are seeing and feeling. Share your perspectives on the situation with them, and your hopes and your fears.

3. Make yourself vulnerable +

Let them see how passionately you feel, how upset you will be if the crisis continues, and how determined you are to help. If few resources are available to throw at the problem, explain this and help people understand why.

4. Make them feel important +

Honour them by affirming, praising and expressing your confidence in their abilities. Let them know (again) just how important they are to you and how you believe they could have a real impact.

5. Ask them for ideas +

If you have done steps 1 to 4 correctly, you will be rewarded with a flood of new practical ideas. Your team’s greatest contribution may be insight rather than action. This stage is critical to encouraging ownership by the team as a whole.

6. Give strong backing +

They will need to know that they will have your full blessing and support for their best ideas and for team decisions taken once the flak starts flying around, as it surely will when they get going.

7. Lead by example +

Pull your weight in making all this happen. Model the kinds of behaviours you need from the team as a whole.

8. Encourage each team member to mobilise as many others as possible +

Get them to use a similar approach and well-focused, step-like objectives. Large tasks can be completed quickly when other teams come and help.

9. Follow through +

Regular updates on the situation, plus feedback sessions to monitor progress, review strategy and fine-tune decisions, are vital in keeping teams focused on urgent tasks.

10. Celebrate every achievement +

Most crises are solved in many small steps, in sequences or in parallel. Make sure that there are ‘early wins’, celebrate them, and honour those who had the idea and took the initiative to make them happen.

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