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Coping with a crisis at work

By Nancy Nzalambi | Jul 7th 2019 | 5 min read
By Nancy Nzalambi | July 7th 2019

No one, even the most skillful and successful employee, is immune to workplace crises. If you have not yet found yourself in the middle of one, wait for it. A world event may threaten to sink your firm to its knees or worse, you may have to shut down activities. A protocol or process mistake could cause major losses and your company may lose credibility with investors. Managing a crisis is no walk in the park. Strategic organization, prioritization, communication and discipline are what the company needs to get through the maze. Here is what you need to do when the sky is falling.


For instance, if you learn that you shipped thousands of defective products to your biggest investor, what will your next action be? Crisis mode is challenged with panic, time pressures, negative financial implications and dented customer relations. To contain the problem;

·         Establish a core team

This very crucial team must have specialists from major departments to create that cross-team interaction that will make important decisions for containment of the problem. The team should have a clear hierarchy and each individual should serve as a leader and own their function’s action and come up with the best possible decisions. The core team should also have an adequately sized support team that will complete the actions and run tasks on the ground.

·         Isolate the crisis management task

The team involved in crisis management must be isolated from their day to day responsibilities to ensure that their focus is on the task at hand. The urgency in finding a solution calls for total commitment. The team should keep track of events so that progress can be observed and troubleshooting can be done when needed.

·         Establish your standard communication protocol

In the middle of the chaos, information may be distorted and misinterpreted. Since communication is paramount during a crisis, a clear communication strategy needs to be put in place to ensure that all stakeholders are updated with the right information and in a timely manner.


Investigating the cause of the problem and how far the damage can be felt involves strategic prioritization of tasks to ensure that the problem is taken care of as quickly as possible.

·         Set schedules and expectations

Come up with a clear and consistent schedule for progress update and communicate any changes in priority setting. The team members working in crisis resolution may have to adjust their personal plans; therefore effective communication on expectations and timelines need to be to be made to ensure that the core team is fully committed for effective crisis management.

•           Be ready to spend

A large scale problem will involve pumping in some funds for damage control. Normal protocol for approval of funds may delay the progress of crisis resolution. Since time is of the essence, put mechanisms in place to expedite financial approval processes that are directly related to solving the crisis.


Once you get to understand the scale of the task at hand, prioritize on solving the crisis in the most efficient way possible.

·         Solve the problem systematically

You can choose to employ a formalized problem solving tool to come up with a structured way of handling the crisis and offer the most suitable path towards resolution. Such tools include the ‘5-Why Analysis’ approach, the ‘8Discipline approach and the Shainen technique. Once you agree on which one to use, stick to it and follow the necessary steps and procedures. Drive actions and progress to completion of short term goals that have great positive implications in solving the bigger problem. Maintain the highest level of organization for monitoring the flow of activities.

·         Stay true to ethical business practices

As much as crises may bring chaos in your organization, your team must be patient enough to observe business ethics. The crisis management team should keep calm and maintain high level of professionalism no matter how frustrating the situation gets. Short cuts and unscrupulous deals may end up making the situation worse.

·         Acknowledge that work hours will increase

Crisis resolution may take weeks or even months to achieve. The team may have to work for longer hours than usual. At some point, fatigue will set in and as a result, productivity and effective decision making will suffer. The team could use a good rest once in a while. Allow some time off for them to recharge and offset the fatigue. If a team member needs to be called back from his or her rest day, it should be for a specific and important purpose. Updates can be communicated remotely.

·         Appreciate efforts

The company will have to compensate for the hardship faced by the team members in crisis management. The team will be more focused at the task at hand when they are aware that something noteworthy will be done to compensate the effort and time they put into resolving the crisis.

·         Learn the lessons

Most crises do not occur as a result of a single mistake. They occur as a result of numerous breakdowns in the protocol or process. Share the invaluable lessons learnt for awareness. Implement the recommendations and corrective measures proposed by the team after the course of investigation and crisis management.

·         Manage the transition

Recognize the efforts of the team and let the low moments subside to transition the company from crisis mode to normal business mode. Strengthen structures in place to cushion the company from future devastating situations.

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