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Building a good Crisis Management team

Published on May 10, 2019

In our recent blog 3 stages of an organisational crisis, we looked at understanding a crisis – its definition, nature, and three main stages, and how an organisation should incorporate Crisis Management (CM) strategies into a Business Continuity Management System (BCMS).

This time we are talking about the role of the Crisis Management team in managing such an incident. How important is it to build this team and what kind of people should you be putting in it? Let’s get right into it!

Department Involvement

Firstly, it is inevitable that organisations will require involvement from several key stakeholder areas as they work through a crisis. To ensure that all the relevant areas are represented, the CM team should be made up of members from each of the main stake holding departments.

Generally speaking, these encompass the following as a minimum:

This list is not definitive – in larger organisations there may well be additional departments/teams that would require representation such as health and safety, facilities, medical, etc.

Team Structure

Another factor to take into consideration in order to build a strong and successful group that will act well in the instance of a crisis is the roles of those within the team.

A clear hierarchy will ensure leadership direction which can be identified, followed and practised by those involved.


Now that we are clear we require leaders within the team, we must look at how we go about appointing the CM leader and deputy.

These individuals will be responsible for building and maintaining the team, including the management of multiple activities such as creating policies and processes, assigning tasks to team members, and regularly testing and evaluating these processes.

They do not necessarily come from a particular department, nor do they have to be appointed based on their level of seniority.

The criteria for the characters required to fulfil these roles may vary between organisations, but there are some universal considerations which can be made when making this appointment.

These include an appropriate temperament (you are looking for someone who can remain calm and collected at time of a crisis, so steer clear of any drama queens) confidence (making important decisions quickly and with limited information which involve a certain level of risk taking requires self-assurance) and being able to act as a team player (It's important to be able to work well together across multiple departments, with individuals and teams they may not have come into contact with before).

A deputy should possess the same skills as the list above, however, might additionally benefit from strengths in organisation, coordination and communications.

They may well become relied upon as the go-between to relay messaging from the leader to the team members, as well as to coordinate activities during and following the crisis that are decided upon at top level.

The skills identified, particularly in terms of being able to remain calm and collected and work well within a team, will also be of importance when appointing the additional members of the team who come from the departments we pinpointed earlier.

Business Impact

We can probably all imagine what could happen if an organisation didn’t have the right team structure or members on board when they reach crisis point.

Poor leadership, decision making or teamworking skills could result in the event spiralling out of control and leading to negative financial impact, loss of customers, reputational damage and more.

One ‘worst case’ example is the instance of United Airlines in 2017 when a security guard violently removed a passenger who refused to give up his seat on a flight which was overbooked and required to make space for staff.

The incident was filmed by other passengers and quickly went viral, causing mass public outrage.

The company handled the crisis defensively, with the CEO stating that the passenger in question acted ‘disruptive and belligerent’.

He also initially failed to apologise for the behaviour of the security staff (two of which were later fired during a subsequent court settlement between the airline and the passenger).

This defensiveness was the organisations downfall when dealing with the event.

Customers should be the main priority during this kind of situation, and despite their best efforts to repair the damage done by their initial response in subsequent apologies and admissions of company error, the damage had already been done.

United experienced close to a $1 billion drop in shares and a 10 year low in consumer perception from this event, not to mention the confidential settlement it was forced to make with the affected passenger, and the associated loss in sales that came from the reputational damage caused.

In contrast, a good CM team can be the difference between a crisis being resolved as quickly and painlessly as possible and it spiralling out of control in the way we have seen above.

KFC’s 2018 drama whereby they experienced a shortage of chicken arriving to restaurants within the UK due to a change in transportation suppliers meant that over 800 from its 870 branches in the region were forced to close.

The organisations communications strategy was immediately put in force.

Knowing their market was young and media-savvy, social media was the preferred channel to reach their customers and tasteful humour was the messaging style adopted, again something which they knew would appeal to their youthful audience.

The main lessons which can be learned from this far more successful approach was the honesty shown by the firm – they admitted to the problems, apologised and were very publicly transparent in how they were dealing with the situation using regular updates and a dedicated site for information.

Never underestimate the power of a good crisis management team, or the importance of implementing such a team carefully. This should be a key priority as part of your comprehensive BCMS.