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10 Key Steps to Lead Your Team During a Crisis


Tue Nov 25 2014

10 Key Steps to Lead Your Team During a Crisis

The famed statesman Henry Kissinger once said: “Next week there cannot be a crisis. My schedule is already full.” 

Oh, if it were only this simple? Imagine if you could plan when to have a crisis? Reality, however, has a way of getting in the way of the best plans in the form of a crisis, which by the way, usually comes as a surprise. 


As we all know, you typically never get the chance to plan a crisis. But you do have the opportunity to transform how you and your team react to one. Indeed, it's important to take a proactive approach in a crisis. 

You should have a plan in place to minimize the impact the crisis has on you and your business. It should include a policy for bringing order to the chaos, such as a procedure to begin developing solutions, and a way to focus on the opportunities that pop up amid the chaos that you often miss because you’re busy putting out fires. Throughout the entire “crisis cycle” keep your team informed on several factors: 

  • desired outcome, such as a return to some level of normal or a higher level of performance (after all, you want to learn from the crisis and apply that knowledge to help make you better as well as to prepare you for the next unexpected “event”)

  • each of their roles as it relates to the desired outcome

  • how staff is doing on reaching the outcome

  • status and interim accomplishments. 

It's also important to be visible to your team as much as possible during a crisis. When the team sees you, it has a calming effect—like the captain of a ship navigating through rough and turbulent seas. Your team (crew) will stay calm and focused when they see you acting calm and focused. So, being visible, keeping them informed on all activities, the desired outcome, and how they are doing will keep them engaged until the crisis has been resolved.

Steps for managing the crisis

The bad news is that there is never a “last” crisis. The good news is that each one presents you with a unique opportunity to learn. Here are some steps that I have learned from my experiences in managing a crisis: 

  1. Take ownership as soon as you can. Stop the bleeding and get to work to minimize the disruptive affect it is having on your operations and services.

  2. Assess the damage and get the facts. Ask questions of the right people so you can separate the clutter and fiction from reality. 

  3. With a better grasp of the relevant facts, you are now in an excellent position to dispel rumors (which always surface during a crisis) and communicate the next steps.

  4. There is no time for emotion, excuses, or blame. The initial goal is to understand the real cause.

  5. Begin to set expectations and responsibilities within your team regarding initial tasks. The goal is to get the team focused on stabilizing the situation. Make sure to solicit input from your team to help you set realistic deadlines for the completion of these initial tasks.

  6. Don’t forget “Murphy’s Law.” You know, if anything can go wrong, it will. Well in a crisis multiply the likelihood of Murphy showing his face by a factor of 10. To combat this, work hard to keep your plan clear and updated; demand quality communications and quick action when new “surprises” courtesy of “Murphy” appear.

  7. Be seen and be heard. It is important that your team see you involved as their leader. You want to make certain that you get 100 percent understanding and buy in from your team on the job to be done. Communicate with your team often. Tell the truth and deal with the facts—don’t try to spin the story. 

  8. Return to business as usual. Once the crisis has passed and things get back to normal, identify those things you would have done differently that would have allowed you to either prevent the crisis or handle it more quickly or effectively. Incorporate those findings that make the most sense into systems and procedures within your business. Make certain that your entire team understands these changes and are trained in their proper execution, and communicate these changes to all affected groups.

  9. Don’t forget to acknowledge the hard work of your team during the crisis. Demonstrate to them that you are genuinely appreciative of their effort. Help them to learn from the experience so that they will be even better the next time. 

  10. Finally, rest assured, there will be a next time. Just remember that the most important aspect of a crisis is not the crisis, it is how quickly you can rally your team and get them engaged to eliminate confusion and bring back order. 

Prepare today 

What is your process for handling a crisis? Is your team aware of this process before you have them put it into action? Can you and your team execute it flawlessly, or will you try to “wing it?” How often do you review and reevaluate this plan with your team?

Bottom line: create your plan now. Solicit input from your team to make it work for everyone. Then—and only then—will you have an effective crisis management program in place and a team who will perform as planned.

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