The world just came crashing down. It doesn’t matter if it’s a server crash, a client sent out 100,000 emails for a website that is not finished, or if management decided it had to have the new features done by Saturday. The final result is the end of the world.
Project Managers are running and yelling, engineers are seething and reaching for a bottle (of antacid) and everyone on the team is getting a phone call or a talking to in order to make sure it GETS DONE NOW.
Emergencies happen all of the time, and though you can see them building sometimes, you rarely know when the storm is going to hit. When the storm does hit, it’s the people that will do the work that get hit the hardest. They have to cancel plans, stay at the office late hours, and work until its done.
I’ve been handling emergencies for years and there’s something I’ve realized over time: the impossible can happen when everyone on the team is invested in helping to resolve the situation.
For many people, their first reaction to danger is to tell people what to do. No one that I know of likes to be told what to do, especially when the task means overtime, overnight, or over-stressed.
So how can you avoid telling your team what to do and instead get them to pitch in and help? I call it the 3 E’s for Handling Emergencies.
Expectations are set before the emergency and is something that can take a lot of getting used to. You need to ensure that your organization does not live in a state of emergency.
Set clear and reasonable expectations with your clients, vendors, and in-house teams. Be firm on timelines and communicate why rushing to completion can be bad for the client and for your team. If you have deadlines that give your team enough time to complete the projects on their plate, you will get better work from your team, and have happy customers because you can then beat the generous deadlines without breaking a sweat.
A broken server doesn’t care about your expectations, and neither does the client who accidentally sent out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising two weeks too soon. It happens.
Luckily, since your team no longer lives in a perpetual emergency, you have their full attention when there is a bona fide situation. What you should not do in this time of crisis is send a list of tasks to your team, a deadline and tell them to get to it. They want to own the emergency and understand its implications. They may have better ideas to get it done in time without spending their weekend on it.
So instead, gather your team in a quick meeting or phone call. State how you tried to push for reasonable expectations but that it won’t work this time. State the problem and the possible solutions that you came up with. Invite their feedback to see if they have better ideas.
Sharing the problem and letting them speak into solutions gives them ownership of the situation. Once they own the problem, it is much more likely that they will attack it with all of the gusto that they have. And you know they have a lot. They are your team.
It may be that when the emergency arises, you are not the person to actually fix the problem. You may believe that you can just pass the buck on to your team, and tell them to get working.
You can do that, and it may even work. But the first chance your team has to dump on you, it will do it. You want to grow teamwork and cooperation, so be extremely sensitive to what you are asking your team to give up.
They may be missing a child’s soccer game, a date night with their wife, or just a night of quiet reading. Either way, their free time is precious and you are trying to take it away from them.
Apologize. Make sure you do whatever you can to enforce reasonable deadlines. Ask what you can do to help and be willing to do it.
My team at Mindscape performs miracles on a regular basis. Whenever they do, there’s a common thread. Everyone is invested in the problem and wants to find a solution. When it doesn’t go well, it means we have reverted to giving tasks and deadlines without educating the team on why we have to get it done, and explaining why we are bypassing our reasonable expectations.