Leading Teams Under Pressure

May 08, 2020


When stressed, it's tempting to change processes, lean on 'favorites', and focus on good news; instead, teams need preparation, experts, and reality.

Some people thrive under pressure and others thrive by avoiding pressure! Let’s face it, being under pressure rarely bring out our best, but practice, partnership, and planning improves our ability to lead teams through challenging experiences– expected and unexpected. For example, every three years, the response teams close the Rochester International Airport and simulate a real-life emergency on the runway.

It is a well-known phrase in the emergency response community, and it bears repeating:

“The onset of a critical incident is the wrong time to exchange business cards” ~ Police Chief Jim Franklin, Disaster Training Prepares Responders for the Real Thing

Team building does occur during high pressure situations. In fact, you may still have relationships with friends and colleagues that developed through the bond of stress. To Franklin’s point, however, it is far better to build a team before a challenge hits.

  1. Prepare, Don’t Design: Work as a team to prepare for the worst-case-scenario before it happens. The response is then practiced, and improvements made. Bigger mistakes are made when the response is designed during a strenuous event. (Yes, please exchange business cards during this phase!)
  2. Experts, Not Favorites: When our team members are pressed, they will lean on their favorite co-workers. Unfortunately, it is critical to rely on experts, even if they are unknown. (They should be known, please refer to Step 1.) Avoid the trap of “us vs. them” thinking when depending on outside expertise, and especially within the organization.
  3. Reality, Not News: When teams face difficulty, pressure mounts to deliver good news. However, that’s not always possible, and the reality of the situation must be acknowledged and addressed. Attention must not be diverted to maintaining appearances. Our focus must shift from the “good of the few” to the “good of the many.” (Remember, leaders, this is still not about you!)

It is not inexpensive to prepare and align with new partners; consider time, money, and opportunity costs. About the practiced response at Rochester International Airport, ABC 6 News reports, “It takes nearly a year of planning to coordinate efforts between all the agencies.” The priority of the response team (comprised of many agencies) is clear, as it should be for all teams.

“Life safety is our number one priority, and this helps us really train for that possibility of a critical incident response.” ~ Police Chief Jim Franklin, Disaster Training Prepares Responders for the Real Thing

If you and your team (or your family) were faced with a challenge, could you quickly express the team’s number one priority? What do you need to prepare, with which experts could you align, and on which results would you focus?

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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