Bringing people closer
There was a great story that came out of the Queensland floods. A shop owner, with only moments left before the oncoming tidal surge that would flood his shop, was desperate. He had a tonne of stock on the shelves that would all be damaged and not enough time or manpower to get it all to high ground.
In desperation, the only thing he could do was put a sign in the window that simply read, “HELP”. Within minutes there were between 50 and 80 people forming a human chain that helped remove every piece of stock and load it into a truck (also supplied by one of the good Samaritans). The stock, and most likely the man’s livelihood, was saved.
What can this tell us about teams? The surge of goodwill, selflessness and discretionary effort was what just about every leader I know dreams about, but few manage to achieve. Galvanising everybody in a time of crisis is not only powerful, but is blatantly misused in today’s workplace.
The upside of crisis
It’s well documented that teams that work together to overcome a crisis create stronger bonds. There are even some leadership authors that encourage you to ‘manufacture’ a crisis in order to make this happen
(for a good summary of implementing a crisis, read this). The biggest downside to this would be that if you got found out, then any trust the team had in you would be eroded, so this is not something that I would recommend.
However, if you do have a crisis on your hands, I also suggest you take advantage of it. How will you use it to build interdependence and break down barriers? How will you reinforce your key messages to build the team culture that you want to see. And after the crisis, how will you reflect on the work that the team did in order to keep the positive momentum?
The problem when everything’s ‘urgent’
Unfortunately, there are many employees who are subjected to a constant stream of tasks labeled as crises and a constant barrage from leaders telling them everything is dire. A mentor of mine once told me this: “If everything is urgent, then nothing is.” His point was twofold:
1) Once everything becomes urgent, then everything is exactly the same. By definition, everything is then average and so there is no real urgency, and
2) When we make everything urgent all the time, then people get desensitized to ‘urgency’ and they get complacent and skeptical.
If you’ve been involved in an organisation that does this regularly, then you know exactly what I mean. When Kotter wrote ‘A Sense of Urgency’ I don’t think this is what he meant.
If you are a leader and find yourself constantly trying to press the gas pedal by doing this, just know that your efforts are becoming less and less effective with every rev of the engine.
A crisis can be a blessing and a disguise. Used the right way, they can galvanise a team to action and create bonds that last a long time. They need to be handled the right way and team members need to feel as though you are genuine.
Next time you face a seemingly insurmountable hurdle, use the opportunity wisely.