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'Crisis' or 'Opportunity' for Smart Teams?

The recent ‘Brexit’ is likely to force many leaders and teams to ponder their approaches to turbulent uncertainty, and perhaps even to crisis management.

Scenarios such as Brexit give us an opportunity to consider how teams can better deal with crisis, and even create opportunity in challenging times. How effectively teams handle challenging times is determined by the skill with which emotional reactivity and behavior is managed.

A balance of thinking, action and social roles are needed within a team to minimize the impact of harmful biases in decision-making and execution.

These role styles exist in varying strengths within a team based on a lifetime’s worth of experience unique for each person. Ideally team members will leverage off one another’s strengths whilst also working to contain one another’s weaknesses in a well-timed manner.

Whether a team will manage well or poorly is thus underpinned by just how well behavior and relationships are understood to ensure that contributions are used to best effect.

The right combination of people can therefore thrive in a time of crisis and identify opportunities, whilst in contrast; a poorly composed team can easily succumb to pressure and cognitive bias.

Expert in crisis management, Alan Hilburg, also proffers that “every crisis is an opportunity to showcase an institution's character, its commitment to its brand promise and its institutional values. To address such shareholder impact, management must move from a mindset that manages crisis to one that generates crisis leadership”.

Crisis leadership is an ability to deal with challenging situations whilst also identifying potential opportunities. Ideally good teams develop ways to emerge from any crisis in a well-placed position of ongoing strength.

Pressure and uncertainty (both external and internal) will exacerbate cognitive biases. This can cause even a team that looks great on paper to become bogged in crisis mode and succumb to the pressure.

Emotional reactivity and cognitive bias is quite natural and it originates from the limbic system of the human brain. However when not understood and left unchecked, it can result in damaged relationships, poor decisions and poor execution.

Numerous types of cognitive bias manifest under pressure and these biases, just like the team roles, are primarily action, thinking and social in nature. Where imbalance is not managed, such biases can seriously impact decision-making quality.

There are times when our ‘amygdala moments’ of fight, freeze and flight, gifted to us from evolution, may serve us well. They do not however better inform complex problem solving and working relationships that require our higher brain functions over the reptilian ones.

Where teams have a repertoire of behavioral contributions that is balanced and well timed, the negative biases are far less likely to prevail. Individuals within a team can more easily offset one another’s blind spots when weaknesses manifest.

People know what to expect of one another and leaders are also forewarned of biases that can occur under pressure.

Since 1988 Sabre has seen numerous local and global crisis situations come and go. The leaders and teams that we have seen thrive and survive best during such turbulence are those who seek evidence based insights into their strengths and weaknesses.

So how do we best obtain insight into what strengths and weaknesses our team has?

A great foundation for such evidence based awareness and understanding comes from using the behavioral profiling of the Belbin Model.

Belbin has been instrumental in identifying how to best manage a crisis for leaders and teams worldwide.

It is useful for leaders and teams to honestly appraise their strengths and weaknesses in the good times, and simply essential to do so in uncertain times.

“Since pressure is both a precipitator and consequence of crisis, leaders who perform well under pressure can effectively guide the organization through such crisis”. 1

Which of your managers and leaders will actually thrive under pressure?

How will your leaders and teams react to a crisis?

What cognitive biases will be likely to impact them (action, social, thinking) and how can they be better managed?

Who in the team can best help to identify risks and opportunities whilst also separating facts from assumptions?

Belbin profiles and team reports can help to pragmatically answer these and other questions.

If left purely to chance opportunities can be missed.

Hopefully the post ‘Post-Brexit’ drama will be brief, and not too chaotic. Irrespective of what the future may hold, it will be the organizations with the best teams that will be left standing in the long run.

1. James, E.; James, E. H. (2008). "Toward an Understanding of When Executives See Crisis as Opportunity". The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 44 (1): 94–115.

2. Lynn Wooten (2010). Leading Under Pressure. Routledge Academic.

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