How to Set Up a Crisis Response Team (and Why You Need One) 

Every company should have a crisis response team. Organizing and training such a team is not hard if you follow a few key steps. 

Why Every Organization Needs a Crisis Response Team 

Even after the turmoil of the last few years, many organizations still do not have a formal crisis management team (CMT).  

That turmoil shows little sign of letting up (see, for example, the war in Ukraine, growing food insecurity, and rising economic insecurity to go along with the lingering pandemic and the ongoing problems with the supply chain). 

In this environment, why do so many organizations neglect to set up a crisis management team? 

The answer is either confidence or a delusion, depending on who you ask.  

If you ask the leaders of those organizations, most would tell you they don’t need to set up a formal CMT because they have confidence in the ability of their leadership and employees to improvise an effective response to a crisis. 

If you ask a crisis management consultant, they are likely to say the reason is because the leaders are under a delusion about what dealing with a serious crisis is like. They tend to underestimate the confusion and stress of a crisis and overestimate their staff’s ability to come up with an effective response out of thin air. Often, they also assume incorrectly that handling a crisis is similar to managing day-to-day problems. 

And even if the improvisers make all the right calls, not having a CMT set up ahead of time can be costly. Even an improvised response requires a certain amount of planning, discussion, and coordination before the active response can begin. Time spent on these activities is time taken away from responding to the crisis. 

The fact is, every organization should have a formally identified and trained CMT in place. This is the best way to ensure that, if and when a crisis strikes, the organization will be able to respond in a way that accomplishes the four crisis management priorities of protecting life and safety, stabilizing the incident, preserving property, and restoring business operations. 

The good news is, setting up and training a crisis management team is not difficult. 

Structuring the Crisis Response Team

The first task in setting up a crisis management team is deciding which departments will be represented on it. The team should include at least one person from each of the following departments: 

  • Communications 
  • Impact/Damage Assessment 
  • Legal 
  • Risk Management 
  • Information Technology 
  • Finance/Accounting 
  • Human Resources 
  • Supply Chain 
crisis response team

These people act as advocates for their department, making sure the impacts on their area are understood and addressed. 

Representatives from other departments (e.g., Marketing, Vendor Management, or someone from a specific remote location) might be brought in to deal with a particular crisis if it impacts their area.  

Another extension that might be needed are third-party advisors such as PR firms, data or security firms, law enforcement, or regulatory bodies. A process for bringing these entities in should be defined ahead of time. 

Choosing the Right People 

The people chosen for the CRT don’t just need to come from the right departments. They also need to have the right temperament and skillset. The people assigned to the team should have a proven ability to perform well in stressful situations.  

People who are good in a crisis tend to be: 

  • Good at solving problems. 
  • Able to make quick determinations and decisions based on the information available at the time. 
  • Confident but not egotistical. 
  • Tactically knowledgeable. 
  • Willing to act in the absence of consensus. 
  • Calm and level-headed. 
  • Not overly sensitive to criticism or debate. 
  • Collaborative.  

It is wise to choose people with these characteristics in staffing the CMT. 

the right people for a crisis management team

How to Find Good Crisis Team Members 

There are a handful of roles where the people filling them tend to be good candidates for the CMT: 

  • The senior leader of each core department might be a good choice, depending on the organization. Such leaders tend to possess a good combination of vision and detailed knowledge of organizational operations and impacts.  
  • The direct reports of the senior leadership team are often excellent choices. These tend to be knowledgeable, can-do people who are capable of working collaboratively. 
  • People who come to the forefront during business continuity exercises or in crisis or other stressful situations.  

Most people have a sense of who in their department is a level-headed, can-do person capable of working well with others. One of the best ways to staff a CMT is to ask around and identify these individuals. 

Choosing a Team Leader 

The leader of the CMT should not be chosen based on seniority or politics but on ability.  

The leader should have all of the qualities mentioned above and also be supremely confident and highly respected across the organization. Their role is primarily that of facilitator.  

While it might seem natural to appoint as the leader the most senior person on the team, that individual might lack the specific skillset and aptitude required. They might also be more valuable in the role of participant than facilitator. 

For more on choosing a crisis response team leader, see “Choosing a Crisis Management Team Leader” in Chapter 3 of MHA’s free ebook Crisis Management: A Handbook for BCM Professionals. 

Compensating for Political Appointments 

Nothing undermines the performance of a crisis response team like having people on it who are there based on politics rather than temperament and skillset. 

Try to contain this problem by informing management why it’s important to have competent, suitable people in this critical role. 

If a high-ranking person is included on the team for political reasons, consider bringing in a trusted lower-ranking person from the same department who possesses the necessary knowledge and characteristics to do the job. 

Two Kinds of CMT Training 

Once the crisis management team is staffed and the leader in place, it’s time to move on to training. 

There are two types of crisis response training: 

  • Lessons about what the crisis team does, what people’s roles are, and what is contained in the crisis management and business continuity plans. 
  • Realistic exercises that put the group under pressure, requiring them to work together and solve problems as they would in a real crisis. This allows problems in the group’s dynamics and people’s grasp of their roles to be surfaced and addressed before there is a real crisis. 

Having the team members participate in both types of training is essential in order to help them understand their role and be able to carry it out under pressure. 

Crisis Team Fundamentals 

Every organization should set up a formal crisis management team to ensure that, in the event of a crisis, it is truly capable of protecting life and safety, stabilizing the incident, preserving property, and quickly restoring business operations.  

The task of organizing such a team is not difficult. The main things to focus on in doing so are: choosing the right departments for representation, choosing people with the right temperament and skillset, choosing a strong leader, and training the team through lessons and realistic exercises.  

Further Reading 

For more information on crisis response teams and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS: 

About
Richard Long
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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