4 Tips for Leading Teams Through any Situation

When my partner and I started our business, Wild Creations, we often tried to predict potential scenarios that could threaten our company.  Like most ambitious entrepreneurs, my goal was to be prepared for any situation.  This was so that when crises did strike, I was used to leading teams through it with level-headed resolve.

I learned quickly, like most seasoned entrepreneurs, that it is impossible to predict every potential threat.  Indeed the most significant problems were often the ones we failed to foresee altogether.

We eventually turned our focus on developing a general strategy to prepare us to handle crises. Specifically worse case scenarios.  Being located in a coastal community, we had an emergency plan for a hurricane, so why not for leading teams through crises we did not predict?

Four steps to tackle worse case scenarios

1. Identify Your Situation Team

You do not need a large team. However, it should consist of only the most trustworthy staff that can handle this level of pressure. They should also be available at a moment’s notice. This is because crises cannot be put off for a few days, or even hours these days.  Do not worry about leaving people out.  Less qualified people will cause more problems than they solve.  This is your “ Situation Team”

2. Have a Situation Room

When a problem arises, your Situation Team should be called immediately.  You will want to meet in private until you can clearly isolate and understand the problem.  Since you do not want to set off a panic among staff, it is best to identify a meeting place that is remote and secluded.  If it must be onsight, be sure it is private.  This will be your ” Situation Room”.

3. Develop a Situation Protocol

Once you have your Situation Team together, you want all members to follow a specific and confidential protocol, as to assure that the situation is not made worse while you work through the problem.  For instance, you should develop generic talking points you will use while you make inquiries and address questions.  You will also want to control all communications and correspondences, in person or electronically until the problem is contained.   This is your “Situation Protocol”.

4. Rehearse

Preparation is key.  Therefore, once you have your team, place and protocol, run a few drills to practice.  These drills are a good time to rehearse any hypothesized worse case scenarios.  The worse, the better.

A serious situation

For Wild Creations, our ” situation ” hit us in 2009,  At that time, we were experiencing amazing growth and had just landed our first major retailer, Brookstone. Late that fall, my co-founder text me late on a Friday night, “ Situation Room – 911”.  This was serious.

We connected by phone, and he informed me that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had issued a public announcement linking a nationwide salmonella outbreak to the particular type of frog we sold.  The report was being covered by every major news agency, and while they didn’t mention Wild Creations by name, they used an image of the frog from our website.  Most alarming, it was children who were getting sick.

Sick Children

Within thirty minutes, we were in our Situation Room, a small conference room in our office, with our small Situation Team.  For the next 48 straight hours over the weekend, we researched the issue, called and emailed anyone connected with the report, drafted PR statements, talked with our partners, and fielded calls from customers.  Our office and warehouse were typically closed on the weekend, but no phone call that weekend went unanswered and every email had a response within an hour.

By Sunday night, we were able to isolate the problem and determine that it was not our frogs that were a source of the issue.  We updated our website, issued press releases, and even changed our outgoing message by adding an extension for inquiries.  By the time the rest of the staff arrived on Monday morning, we were able to debrief them and answer questions.

By midweek, we had diffused the problem completely.  More importantly, our staff was never aware of the fact that, for a short while that weekend, we believed the company might close entirely because of this issue.

It can’t happen to us

Most entrepreneurs shrug off scenarios this dramatic as “It can’t happen to us.”  From my personal experience, and through consulting and mentor work I’ve done with numerous other entrepreneurs, I can tell you they do happen, and often when you least expect it.

Predicting every worst-case scenario is impossible, but being prepared to handle them requires very little effort.  In the end, the amount of stress and anxiety you will save you and your team will be worth it.

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Peter Gasca is an entrepreneur, small-business consultant, author and business adjunct lecturer. He is the co-founder and CEO of Wild Creations, a specialty toy and game developer and manufacturer. Previously, Gasca had a successful career as a business-development consultant for USAID and a long career in real estate development. He is the co-author of One Million Frogs.