Leading Response and Recovery Teams (Part 3)

LeadershipThis perspective is the third 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 disruptive event.  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).

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we addressed the role of the team leader, which is to create a team vision and purpose, as well as the team leader’s responsibility to manage the chaos associated with a disruptive event.  In this perspective, Part 3, we review the team leader’s role in ensuring the team remains adaptable in a changing environment and how the team leader can work to pull these key factors together.

Facilitate Adaptability
Following a disruptive event, your teams will face a dynamic environment where the situation is constantly changing.  Response and recovery teams will need to collect and process incomplete information, make decisions, and be ready to change those decisions if or when the circumstances change.  Response and recovery team leaders, realizing that a previous direction or choice is or may no longer be valid, must facilitate their team’s ability to change direction and adapt. But, how?

The team leader should first work with the team to understand how the situation is changing.  In the previous perspective, we discussed the importance of distinguishing between facts and opinions, assumptions, and predictions as a means to help the team manage the chaos following a disruptive event.  The team should be asked to monitor for new information (facts) that may contradict earlier opinions, assumptions, and predictions that underlie the team’s decisions.  Some team members may think that changing directions, admitting that assumptions were incorrect, or confirming that the situation has changed indicates that the team made a mistake.  However, it’s up to the team leader to reinforce the position that changing directions does not always mean the team made a bad decision earlier in the response and recovery process.  It’s important to note that in a good business continuity program, the team will have the opportunity to explore the root cause of the change at a later date and determine if the team made a mistake, the response and recovery process is flawed, or if the circumstances required the change.

The team leader must help the team understand that to effectively navigate the dynamic environment, they must change strategies when the original strategy will no longer help the team achieve its purpose.  An effective team leader must work to reduce the desire to assign blame among team members and make them feel “safe” when changing direction. If team members believe they will be blamed for decisions they recommend that do not work out, they will be reluctant to supply ideas, support decisions, and ultimately take a hands-off approach to teamwork.  Without a safe environment to facilitate adaptability, the team leader will have a group of people who supply information but refuse to make decisions (even when the direction is clear).  In a dysfunctional team, team members will throw out ideas then quickly distance themselves from ownership of the decision.  For example, team members may make comments like: “I think we should do X, but it’s not my decision so whatever you want to do.”  The team leader needs to facilitate adaptability in their team to create a culture of ownership and engagement for all team members. A response and recovery team with members who are engaged and own their decisions will be much more successful in navigating the chaotic environment following a disruptive event.

Specifically, to facilitate the team’s adaptability, the team leader needs to help the team to:

  1. Identify actions that are taken and do not result in the desired or expected result so they can be reviewed following the conclusion of the disruptive event;
  2. During the review, ensure the team understands that the objective is to identify ways to improve the process NOT to assign blame for mistakes or incorrect decisions (based on hindsight);
  3. Improve the response and recovery plan and procedures to improve performance in the future; and
  4. When necessary, accept blame and move on – don’t dwell on errors, learn from them.

The team leader needs to acknowledge that any activities during the response and recovery effort that do not move the team (and the organization) toward an effective recovery are only delaying recovery and increasing business impact.  The team leader must help the team make progress, but also demonstrate adaptability in his/her own behavior. As business continuity professionals, we need to help the team leaders in our organization build a culture of adaptability.  We should design post-incident reviews in an objective way to assess the process and the performance of the team and work to prevent the review from degrading into meeting to assign or deflect blame.  In essence, we need to avoid the pass/fail mentality and instead focus on improving future performance.

Tying It All Together
The team leader sets the example for the team.  Even if the team leader is not a supervisor, team members will look to the team leader to set the standard for their own behavior.  The team leader’s behavior will influence the team’s attitude either towards engagement or apathy.  As the team leader, show the team that you respect and value everyone’s opinion but also that all team members are expected to act on the decisions made by the team (or team leader) regardless of his/her initial position.  If the team members view the process as fair and respectful then they will be engaged even if their ideas are not acted upon.

The team leader’s actions are an example for other team members. A team leader that allows unproductive activities to distract him/her will send a clear message to team members that the team’s activities are of a low priority.  One example is responding to low priority emails following a disruptive event – the urge to respond when our phones buzz with new emails is difficult to resist.  Team leaders may feel that they need to answer emails even when the team has an established communication structure for sending out information.  Team members are always watching the team leader and using his/her example to guide their own behavior.  And if the team leader is wasting time responding to emails and ignoring the discussion going on in a team meeting then the team will assume that the recovery effort is of little value and become disengaged from the process.

The team leader needs to be assertive with decision making.  Decision making within each team varies from organization to organization.  Collaborative organizations may require a consensus while directive organizations may require the team leader to make decisions.  The team leader should not waste time delaying decisions and push the team to make it and move on.  Even when the team has imperfect information, the team leader needs to help the team to make decisions and take action to respond and recover the organization.  However, when the team can take time to allow the team to make decisions, the team leader should present the issue, structure the discussion, listen (without interrupting) to other opinions, and then guide the team towards making the decision.

As business continuity professionals, we need to help our organizations’ leaders realize that their behaviors impact the team more than their words.  Team members will take their cues from the team leader so make sure he/she is acting in a manner that models the behaviors we want the team members to exhibit.  When we work with team leaders (throughout the business continuity lifecycle), we need to work with them, one-on-one, to highlight how their behavior in interacting with the team elicits similar behaviors from their team members.

The response and recovery process requires response and recovery teams to work effectively towards their team’s vision.  By the very nature of a disruptive event, the situation is chaotic and rapidly changing and the role of a team leader is to align the team members to a common vision, provide structure in the chaos, and help the team adapt to the changing environment.  Team leaders should never lose sight of their end goal – the path we take to achieve it may change, but, when we’re done, the organization has effectively recovered.

Additional Resource

The team leader checklist provides a handy worksheet to identify methods to help the leader guide the response and recovery team to achieve its purpose.

Team Leader Checklist

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Greg Marbais
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting


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