Run Effective Crisis Meetings

 
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Conventional meeting agendas don't work well in crisis, so ditch them.

Instead try this simple 4-question technique that works well for teams under pressure.

 
 
 

“The single most important thing a crisis leader and his/her team can do, to facilitate the application of critical thinking and foster expert team behaviours even in relatively untested teams, is to focus on the process of deciding – rather than the decision itself”

- Novella, S (2012) Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills.


4Q Meeting Technique

INTRO

The efficiency and quality of our crisis meetings and decision-making process are central to crisis management success, perhaps more so than any other single factor (except perhaps crisis leadership competencies). Research and experience indicate that a structured, participatory, small-group and iterative decision-making process is most effective for urgent and important decisions in ambiguous and unfamiliar situations. This method is designed with these aspects in mind and works well for operational decision-making in a crisis, providing the ground rules are respected. You can read more about why this method works further below. 

The method is basically 4 quick rounds of questions with decisions taken at the end:

  • What do we know?

  • What do we need to know?

  • What have we done?

  • What do we do next?

  • Decisions.

During the question rounds, each team member answers in turn, speaking for only 1-2 minutes. This seems short but it keeps the meeting on point and forces everyone to come to the meeting prepared and to focus on “what's important now” (win!).


GROUND RULES

  • This works for a small crisis team of 6 persons or less (excluding quiet notetakers and observers). If not, each question round takes too long.

  • The aim is to have short meetings interspaced by short working periods (also known as operational periods). If the meeting takes more than 30 min then it’s usually because the team is too big and/or the leader is not being strict enough on this fast 4-question process.

  • Go through the questions in sequence. The sequence matters and feel more logical/natural for the team.

  • Each person should speak in turn during each question round.

  • Each person should speak briefly and to the point (1-2 min each only per round).

  • Each person should take 2-3 min before each meeting to think and prepare for the meeting.

  • Update displays (flipcharts, whiteboards and TV screens) between meetings so that it does not slow down the meeting. The one exception is the “to-do” board in question-round 4, which is very useful to use during the meeting.

  • Practice using this method in your day-to-day (project) meetings. In stressful situations, people usually don’t use methods they don’t know well.


METHOD

01 | Question Round 1: What Do We Know?

This step helps the team develop and maintain a common understanding "or picture" of the situation. This first step is important to enforce because teams under pressure tend to want to jump straight to action.

  • At the first meeting, the crisis manager starts by giving a short update on the situation.

  • The Team Leader then asks: Do you have any new info on the situation?

  • Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.

  • The notetaker logs the new info.

02| Question Round 2: What Do We Need to Know

This step helps the team think about what info is needed to improve their understanding of the (often fluid) situation. This is important because teams under pressure tend to get so focused on what they know that they forget to seek new info if not prompted.

  • The crisis manager asks the team: What do you think we need to find out to improve our understanding of the situation?

  • Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.

  • The notetaker should note this on a separate sheet/log to avoid confusing known info with missing info.

03| Question Round 3: What Have We Done?

This step helps the team understand what the others are doing. The point here is to do a quick progress check and identify delays, so don't spend too much time talking about ongoing/incomplete tasks.

  • The crisis manager asks: What tasks have you completed since the last meeting? Or Please give a quick 1 min update of what you’ve done?

  • Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.

  • The notetaker logs the completed tasks.

04| Question Round 4: What Should We Do Next?

This step forces the team to offer suggestions to the crisis manager on what should be done next (to fix the problem and better understand the situation). It’s useful to use a board (ie whiteboard) for this round so that the leader can see and prioritize all the suggestions at the end of the round.

  • The crisis manager asks: What do you propose we do next?

  • Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.

  • The notetaker notes suggestions on the board.

05| Decision Time

The crisis manager then approves, rejects or park each suggested task, and assigns each approved task to one individual.

  • The Note-taker records the approved tasks (and the person responsible) in the log.


WHY DOES THIS METHOD WORK?

In no particular order, here are some benefits of the method, as observed in practice. 

  • Even in a room full of stressed-out people, it's easy for the team leader to facilitate a meeting/process by asking a series of simple questions.

  • By using the same questions at every meeting, people show up knowing what to expect and know the meetings won't drag on longer than necessary.

  • It makes note-keeping (logging) easier as it separate information/situation discussions (rounds 1 and 2) from actions/decisions (round 3-4). This is especially useful if you use two logs: an info/situation log and an action/decisions log.

  • It makes briefings much easier. It's easy to bring someone up to speed by explaining: "this is what we know", "this is what we are trying to find out", "this is what we've done" and "this is what we're planning to do" - easy!

  • It's easy to learn and use, and it can be done with just pens and paper.

  • It's often faster and easier to use than a standard "crisis meeting agenda" approach, especially for teams that are not used to using formal (and often long and detailed) crisis agenda formats.

  • It allows each member to contribute and be heard, reduces frustration, and takes advantage of crowd wisdom to propose actions items (tasks). Team members feel more comfortable and in control, leading to better individual and team performance.

  • It's also a useful method to run day-to-day meetings, such as project meetings. The more it’s used the better it will work on crisis day.

  • It forces everyone through a process that fosters critical and practical thinking, while also keeping the team action-oriented. It helps reduce individual judgement biases.


Have any tips? What approach works best for you? Please share in the comments below so that we can learn from one another. Thanks!