The old tongue-in-cheek saying that “a camel is a horse designed by committee” has an ironic application to the team approach in reacting to crises. Contrary to the implied criticism of committee work, if a camel had been designed by a committee, the final product would be the animal best adapted to its desert environment—a camel. So, the combined efforts of a dedicated and qualified group can actually produce good results
So, stretching the camel analogy somewhat, the goal of a Crisis Management Team is to guide the organization through the sandstorm of a crisis and overcome emergency situations.
In a previous article, we highlighted what effective crisis management looks like inside an organization. One important element, as well as a recurring theme in that discussion, was the need for a well-organized Crisis Management Team.
In this article, we shall build upon that theme and focus on the following:
- the purpose, roles, composition, and organization of a Crisis Management Team in a company or non-profit agency
- the need for lines of business and support teams to have a seat at the table
- the indispensable requirement for cross-organizational collaboration
All about the Crisis Management Team
The purpose and role of a Crisis Management Team
As implied by its title, a Crisis Management Team manages crises and protects an organization against their adverse effects. Ideally, the team can also function to prepare the organization against inevitable future threats.
The team’s roles consist of:
- serving as an early-warning mechanism before the crisis fully emerges
- ensuring that there are ways to become aware, activate notification, and proceed with plans and preplanned measures to attend to the crisis
- participate in exercises practicing the crisis management framework and plan
- guide the organization through hard times and prepare everyone for the aftermath of the crisis
- capitalize on lessons learned to improve the organization’s readiness and improve its processes
Composition of the Crisis Management Team
The Crisis Management Team is often headed by a designated leader, who we often refer to as the Crisis Leader or Incident Leader.
The team consists of experts who fulfill the following roles of crisis management
Typical functions and organizational elements of the team are as follows:
Crisis Leader: The team leader could be a direct report of the CEO in a smaller business, or a senior leader in the organization in a larger enterprise, or even a qualified Crisis Management specialist. The team leader directs the Crisis Management Team and facilitates team discussions to ensure that all points of view receive due consideration.
The leader keeps the process moving forward and guides team members towards decisions that have broad consensus. The team leader is the principal conduit in bringing issues to top management for quick decisions on matters of company policy, strategies, and plans.
We’ve written extensively about the role of the Crisis Leader in our article Suiting up for a Crisis, Part I: The Crisis Leader.
Administrative Support or Scribe: This person provides direct support to the team leader and the members. Roles include note-taking for meeting minutes, keeping track of action items, and making logistic arrangements for team meetings to keep everything moving smoothly.
This role requires a highly competent executive assistant and seasoned administrator who knows where things are and how to get the job done in a hurry.
Human Resources: A main goal of crisis management is to look after the welfare of the company’s people. The human resources representative develops and oversees the services to affected employees both during and after the event. Measures would include hiring temporary staffing, attending to benefits issues, or possibly bringing in grief and crisis counselors.
In close coordination with top management and the Corporate Communications and Marketing representative, the HR member also carries out internal relations/communications plans. Their purpose is to keep employees informed about the crisis, revised work arrangements, overtime requests, etc.
Human Resources has a critically important role in play in Crisis Management as a member of the Crisis Management Team. Learn more in our article The Role of HR in Crisis Management.
Legal: The Legal team member is responsible for legal matters relating to liability, communications with authorities, and legal compliance. As the team considers strategies for getting past the crisis, the legal advisor would advise the team on such matters as protecting evidence or mitigating liability.
The role of the legal team member is to provide sound legal advice to the team on current contractual issues with suppliers, partners, and customers. In many cases, they may bring in outside counsel to assist with the crisis at hand.
Risk/Compliance: This team member has a vital role in assuring regulatory agencies (OSHA, FINRA, etc.) that the company’s emergency responses are compliant. This member also has responsibilities for ensuring continued physical security throughout the crisis.
This member needs to be fully conversant with OSHA safety standards and keep the company compliant.
Facilities: The facilities representative manages physical damage assessment and identifies the effects on the company’s infrastructure. This member assesses and gives proper consideration to issues related to the safety and habitability of the company’s buildings and makes recommendations for moving or evacuating employees to other facilities.
Finance and Administration: This is the designated person whose role is to manage the financial stability of the organization during a crisis. This member has the big-picture of the financial impact of the crisis on the company, particularly when company income is disrupted by some crisis.
Information Technology: The IT team member coordinates the IT emergency response actions to restore and protect the company’s IT assets. This member provides the context for the team to understand how the crisis affects the company’s access to its computers, applications, and data needed to do its business.
Note: IT disaster recovery is an important subset of business continuity planning. Since most organizations rely heavily on IT, this team member is a vital asset to every area of the business. The IT member must have a disaster recovery plan readily available and ready to function.
Project Management: During a crisis, the business is essentially frozen in place. The Project Management office representative advises the team on the impact of the crisis on various projects underway. This member would advise the team on which projects can be postponed with minimal impact on company operations, or which projects must stop immediately. The assessment would include the effects on future company plans and goals.
Corporate Communications and Marketing: This team member evaluates and advises the team on the impact of a crisis and responses under consideration from the perspective of marketing and communications. Working with other departments—legal, Operations, and Human Resources, for example—this team member ensures consistency in communications throughout the crisis. Those communications would apply to the media, company shareholders, and (in coordination with the HR team member) to the staff.
Important: Team members must be aware of a dual process in crisis management. Team members execute the recovery plan in accordance with their delineated responsibilities. Crisis communications is the responsibility of the management team, advised and assisted by the communications specialist.
Want to learn more about Crisis Management?
Our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management contains everything you need to know about crisis management.
You’ll learn what it is, why it’s important for your organization, how to prepare for a crisis, how to respond when a crisis happens, and how to recover and learn from a crisis after it is over. We’ll also provide some perspective on where to learn more about crisis management.
Advice on selecting Crisis Management Team members
When gathering up your Crisis Management Team, look for members who exhibit the following 3 essential attributes:
- have a global view of the organization and a good understanding of the impacts of a crisis on their specific area
- while not expected to know everything about their area, they know where to get the information and from whom
- are passionate advocates and can assure that the risk to their area of responsibility is fully addressed and considered and have the ability to lead and direct the recovery of their part of the business.
We write in more detail about the skillset, particularly from a leadership standpoint, needed to be effective as a Crisis Management Team member in our article Suiting Up for a Crisis, Part II: The Crisis Management Team.
Choosing the Crisis Management Team leader
When choosing a team leader, i.e., someone other than the CEO, look for a professional who knows the business thoroughly and is committed to the organization. The leader should be able to work across organizational lines and speak to people at all levels of the organization. The leader should have full authority to facilitate team meetings with a consistent approach that promotes cross-organizational collaboration.
The leader must also have clear decision-making rights, especially when those decisions do not have full consensus of the team. When disagreements arise, the leader must have the authority to adjudicate the process with the leadership as well as the communication skills to keep the process moving forward.
As mentioned earlier in the article, we’ve written extensively about the skillset & necessary leadership skills needed to be an effective Crisis Leader in our article Suiting up for a Crisis, Part I: The Crisis Leader.
After the crisis passes
Your Crisis Management Team has a post-crisis role as well. Having worked through the crisis, the team is in a position to:
- focus on the problems and business readiness shortcomings that led to the crisis
- understand what could be improved
- updating the crisis management framework & plan to address lessons learned
Our article about conducting an effective after-action process might also provide additional perspective here.
Want to work with us or learn more about Crisis Management?
- Our proprietary Resiliency Diagnosis process is the perfect way to advance your crisis management, business continuity, and crisis communications program. Our thorough standards-based review culminates in a full report, maturity model scoring, and a clear set of recommendations for improvement.
- Our Crisis Management services help you rapidly implement and mature your program to ensure your organization is prepared for what lies ahead.
- Our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management contains everything you need to know about Crisis Management
- Our Free Crisis Management 101 Introductory Course may help you with an introduction to the world of crisis management – and help prepare your organization for the next major crisis situation.
- Learn about our Free Resources, including articles, a resource library, white papers, reports, free introductory courses, webinars, and more.
- Set up an initial call with us to chat further about how we might be able to work together