CMT 101: Crisis Management Team Roles

Richard Long

In last week’s blog, we shared our “8 Tips for Building a Good Crisis Management Team.” This week we’re going to take a closer look at Crisis Management Team roles.

Generally speaking, crisis management teams have a specific function and some roles that are universal (for example, each team must have a designated leader and communications, admin/logistics, and business or functional representation). The role of the Crisis Management Team is to manage events and ensure appropriate actions are carried out based on the current impacts of the event, as well as potential risks and impacts.

Multiple crisis teams may exist, with each activating and providing guidance depending on the situation. For example, IT may have a crisis team that activates related to actual or potential IT-related outages, with no other area even being aware.

The concepts and roles apply to any level of the crisis team, but for this blog, we are focusing on a corporate level crisis management team to oversee and manage events that have a corporate-level impact.

How should your organization set up its Crisis Management Team in terms of the roles and departments represented?

In today’s post, we’ll break down the main players or roles that should be included on your team—and note what each person will contribute toward managing the crisis.

Before we dive in, however, here are a handful of overall points that apply to all roles:

  • People on the CMT need to have a global view of the organization as well as a good understanding of the potential impacts and needs of their specific area.
  • Apart from the leader, people on the CMT act as advocates for their area; they gather information on that area and make sure the impacts to it are understood and given due priority. They lead or direct the recovery or actions for the area.
  • In large organizations, each of the areas would likely be filled by one person. In medium and small organizations, the roles might be doubled or tripled up. The important thing is making sure that each area has someone assigned to look after it.
  • 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.
  • Each CMT member is an advocate – the one who ensures each area’s risk and impacts are addressed and considered. They must also be able to consider the overall impacts and understand when other areas or issues take priority.

The above applies to everybody on the team.

The Crisis Management Team

Below are the individual areas that need to be covered on the team, and notes on what each person in that role typically does. (This list varies from last week’s in a few details, but the core content is the same.)

crisis management team

Leader

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. The leader is the team facilitator, not dictator, encouraging discussion and debate 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. It’s important to remember though that the leader has the final authority and may be required to make a decision quickly and with limited information. There should also be a designated alternate to 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 O’Reilly 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.

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.

Legal

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.

Whether you have a big Crisis Management Team, with each role being assigned to a different person, or a smaller team, where each member handles multiple roles, these are the basic functions that need to be taken care of to make sure your crisis team is effective.

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.

The continued development of these Crisis Management team traits will provide the leadership base and support for the organization, teams, and individuals performing recovery actions, supporting customers, and keeping the business functioning during a crisis event, making the overall response more effective and functional.

If you have these areas covered by capable people (see last week’s blog for the kind of people best suited for working on a CMT), you will increase the likelihood that any crisis that confronts your organization will be a bump in the road rather than the end of the road.

About
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.
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