CMT 101: Crisis Management Team Roles

CMT 101: Crisis Management Team Roles

The consequences of having the wrong people on your corporate crisis management team can be severe. In today’s post, we’ll look at the departments that need to be represented on your organization’s crisis team to ensure that it can respond effectively to emergencies. 

Related on MHA Consulting: “How to Set Up a Crisis Response Team (and Why You Need One)

Many of our clients express concern that their crisis management teams (CMTs) are not staffed with the right mix of people. They are right to be concerned. If you get this wrong, it can be hard to make anything else in your crisis response effort go right. 

The potential costs of having the wrong people—or not having the right people—on the team include inadequate expertise, limited perspectives, poor decision-making, and delayed response. In a crisis, these problems can snowball, leading to revenue impacts, reputational damage, legal and regulatory consequences, and even life safety impacts. 

In today’s post, we’re going to list the departments that should be represented on the CMT and note what each representative will contribute toward managing the crisis. 

Individual Temperament and Departmental Representation 

In discussing crisis team membership, it is important to distinguish between the topic of the suitability of the individuals chosen for the team and that of the need for representation on the team of people from specific departments. 

The former is indeed an important subject. It is vital that the individuals chosen for the CMT be temperamentally suited to the task of working collaboratively in a high-pressure, high-stakes environment. However, this is not the subject of today’s post. (We touched on the subject of the ideal temperament for crisis team members previously, in this post and this post, among others.) 

Crisis Team Members as Area Advocates

With the exception of the leader, all the members of the CMT act as advocates for their area. Their job is to gather information on that area and make sure the impacts to it are understood and given due priority. Each member is responsible for leading and directing the response actions for their area. 

CMT members are not expected to have all the information for their area of responsibility in their head. However, they should know where to get their hands on it quickly should the need arise. 

In large organizations, each of the areas would likely be filled by one person. In medium and small organizations, roles might be doubled or tripled up. The important thing is making sure that each area has someone assigned to look after it.

Departments to Include on the Crisis Team  

crisis management team


Obviously, the leader isn’t a departmental representative per se. But a team without a leader is like a boat without a rudder. The CMT Leader manages the team, provides for the safety and well-being of employees, and facilitates the timely resumption of business operations to minimize the impact of the emergency on customers and shareholders. He or she sets the tone and personality of the team. The leader is the team facilitator (not dictator) who encourages discussion and debate in order to ensure that important matters receive due consideration. He or she keeps the group moving forward, then guides the members toward decisions that have broad support. The leader has the final authority and may be required to make a decision quickly and with limited information. There should also be designated alternates who can take over if the primary leader is unavailable.

Administrative Support

The Administrative Support person is responsible for supporting the CMT Leader and members. The admin performs a function similar to that of the character Radar on “M*A*S*H”: they know where everything is and how to get things done. They take notes, keep track of action items and open issues, and know-how to obtain food and transportation, line up hotel rooms, keep everything moving, and make sure nothing is missed. Without an efficient and highly competent Admin Support person the Crisis Management Team will not be as successful or effective. Do not underestimate this role. This person is not just a stenographer. They need to know now to manage and sift the flow of data, sharing it with the team in a format the members can understand. 

Finance & Administration

The primary function of the person in this role is to manage the organization’s financial stability during an event. He or she understands the impact of the crisis on finance and accounting matters, including business process issues and regulatory compliance and reporting. In order to help the organization weather the crisis, this person might make such decisions as raising credit limits or delaying reporting. 

Human Resources

HR is responsible for the development and implementation of services designed to support affected employees during and after the event. The person covering the HR area would be responsible for temporary staffing, benefits issues, or bringing in grief counselors. The HR person is also involved (in coordination with other departments such as Communications) in keeping employees informed about relevant aspects of the crisis; for example, they might notify the employees that overtime requests are approved for the next two weeks. 

Information Technology

The primary function of the IT person is to coordinate and provide context and information related to the IT impacts associated with the event or actions. They direct the IT team as it works to restore information systems and networks affected by the event. If the crisis impacts IT, the IT person communicates these impacts to the larger team. He or she would also inform the team of the likely impacts on IT of any decisions and actions taken to deal with the crisis. For example, if the crisis management team was considering shutting down a building, such as during a fire, the IT person could advise the team as to what the impact would be on the organization’s computer systems and processes. 

The member of the crisis team covering the Legal area provides advice and legal support to all CMT members with regards to liability, communications, lawfulness, prudence, and legal ramifications. They can advise on whether certain strategies under consideration are permissible under the relevant laws or regulatory controls. They might advise the team about such legal matters as the need to protect evidence. 

Operations and Business Recovery

The Operations role serves as the liaison between the CMT and the business recovery teams. The person on the crisis team covering this area is likely to have a lot of input in the actions of the team overall. He or she can provide the team with information on how the crisis is impacting the organization on the ground, at the retail stores, distribution centers, or manufacturing facilities. They can help the team evaluate proposed courses of action from the Operations point of view. As an example, if changing the distribution center schedule is necessary, Ops can address the downstream impacts. 

Project Management Office

The PMO supports the CMT through understanding the impact of the crisis (and any steps taken to deal with it) on the various projects the organization has underway. He or she can advise the team on which projects can be stopped or delayed with minimal impacts and which would bring higher impacts.

Risk, Security, and Compliance

The person on the team covering these areas will be the advocate for the teams dealing with risk, compliance, and security at the organization (including physical and data security). He or she will work closely with local, county, state, and federal law enforcement and investigative agencies. This person can advise the team on whether any contemplated actions might put the organization out of compliance with regulations from OSHA or other agencies. From the security point of view, they would make sure the team attends to the security Impacts of proposed actions. For example, If someone wanted to leave the exterior doors in a facility open for some reason, they would point out the need to station people there to protect those entrances. 

Facility Support

The Facilities team is responsible for conducting a Damage Assessment and identifying affected infrastructure and the extent of damage caused by the event. The person on the team covering this area makes sure that issues related to the organization’s buildings are given proper consideration. He or she attends to such issues as whether the buildings are safe and accessible and whether it’s necessary to move employees to other facilities. 

Marketing and Corporate Communications

The person on the CMT covering this area considers the impact of the crisis and any proposed responses on the marketing and communications functions. He or she works with other departments such as Legal, Operations, and Human Resources to ensure consistency in communications throughout an event. This includes communications to staff, shareholders, the media, and maybe even Wall Street. This person tackles such issues as, for example, what to communicate and to whom if the crisis causes loss of life. 

10 Characteristics of a Successful Crisis Management Team

Cultivate these 10 characteristics to ensure that your Crisis Management team will perform well during a real disaster event.

During a crisis or emergency event, the team(s) leading the various aspects of the event (e.g., overall response, risk, recovery, IT, business areas) are critical to a successful outcome. Your Crisis Management team can exude confidence and support for those under the stress of performing recovery activities or interacting with the public in a difficult situation. They provide needed direction and decision making to allow continued progress.

Based on activations of Crisis Management teams that we have witnessed, we find that those that provide the most value, perform well during a real event, and demonstrate the highest functional capability have the following characteristics:

  1. Supported by Senior Management and Empowered to Act: The senior team does not have to always be a part of the Crisis Management team, but they do need to support those best able to perform the necessary functions, provide visible support of the team, and allow them to act.
  2. Proactive in Activation – Not Afraid to Activate: An effective Crisis Management team will come together when the possibility of an event exists, not just when a crisis occurs. It is easy to disband the team or set a trigger event to reconvene; it is impossible to turn back the clock.
  3. Do Not Manage by Title, but by Ability to Lead: This may be the rarest characteristic, but it is the most impactful. Egos and titles are of little use during a crisis event. Calm, clear, decisive and reasoned actions are necessary. Those with the proper level of knowledge are needed. This may mean including individuals who normally perform different roles. Use a competency-based leadership model to develop team members.
  4. Roles are Well Understood: Crisis Management team members regularly review their roles and responsibilities, consider how to best perform their tasks/role, and educate themselves on things they do not know.
  5. The Team is Scalable Depending on Need: Often both core and expanded teams are defined. When the core team needs assistance, they do not have to figure out who to bring in. They already have most additional needs identified and documented, both internal and external resources (vendors, consultants, etc).
  6. Exercises and Training are Held Regularly: Minimally, exercise should be held annually, but shorter, more frequent exercises can have a great impact.
  7. Depth Across Primary and Secondary Resources: The secondary (or backup) team members understand their roles and responsibilities at a similar level as the primary, and are an equal part of the exercises and training.
  8. Follow Established Incident Principles and Priorities: The team should follow the organization’s documented principles and priorities for the incident management process.
  9. Follow a Comprehensive Crisis Management Plan: While not every event or action can be listed in a plan, basic actions and decisions should be included to allow for more effective problem solving and decision making. Speed is often critical; many items can be pre-defined and adjusted as needed.
  10. Use a Standardized Decision-Making Process: Identify a decision-making process, such as APIE, and include the use of it in all training and exercises.

Handling Emergencies with Confidence  

The composition of a crisis management team is crucial to its effectiveness in responding to emergencies. Teams that lack representation from key departments can suffer from inadequate expertise, limited perspectives, poor decision-making, and delayed response, leading to various negative impacts on the organization.  

In addition to the leader, a CMT should include members of the following departments: administrative support; finance and administration; human resources; information technology; legal; operations and business recovery; project management office: risk, security and compliance; facility support; and marketing and corporate communications. Each representative brings their expertise and acts as an advocate for their area as the team manages the crisis. By ensuring the right mix of representation, a CMT can confidently and efficiently address the challenges posed by emergencies. 

Further Reading 

Are you interested in reading more on crisis teams and response? If so, you might enjoy the following blog posts from MHA Consulting: “8 Tips for Building a Good Crisis Management Team” includes tips on how to choose people with a suitable temperament for a crisis team and how to compensate for political appointments, among others. The post “Dropping the Ball: 6 Common Crisis Response Mistakes” details common pitfalls such as improvising the response to a crisis and not monitoring social media. The core content of the CM plan documents is set forth in “What to Include in Your Crisis Management Plan.” The blog “7 Tips to Help You Protect Your Brand in a Crisis” provides suggestions for minimizing reputational impacts during a crisis. And the article “4 Metrics to Help Your Organization Improve at Crisis Management” discusses ways of quantifying and managing threat readiness, team capability, and other areas of the organization’s crisis management capability. 

Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.

Business continuity consulting for today’s leading companies.

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