Crisis Conditions: List of Things That Make Crisis Management Difficult


List of Common and Serious Crisis Conditions

A running list

In most cases, the novelty or complexity of problem itself is not the reason crisis management teams fail. Most crisis teams are composed of people who have the skills and experience to solve complex problems if given enough time, information, tools, the right people etc. Teams, even great teams, usually fail because crises must be often be resolved under highly unusual and unfamiliar conditions. These “crisis conditions" are the real forces that crush crisis management performance.

Crisis teams that are well informed and trained to cope with these fairly predictable conditions tend to be better prepared, more proactive, and use safeguard more systematically.

If you don’t have a plan to deal with each of these conditions, there is probably a hole in your crisis management programme. I use this as a checklist with teams to double check that these are all covered, before moving on to scenario specific issues.

This list is surely incomplete and your contributions would be greatly appreciated. You can make them in the comment box at the bottom of the page or via email.

The List

  • You often have no planning or prep time once the crisis strikes. Nowadays, the public often finds out about the crisis before or at the same time you do via social media.

  • At the start and during some critical moments, you will need to make rapid and high-risk decisions without the amount of info and analysis you are accustomed to having. This leads to decision-paralysis in some leaders and team members.

  • At the start, you won’t have all the resources (human, technical) that you want or need. This often derails crisis teams at the start unless contingencies are already in place.

  • At the start, a high number of people or executives often want or demand to be part of the CMT or to observe, which often leads to a (serious) slow down or paralysis of crisis meetings and decision-making.

  • At the start, you probably won’t be able to assemble the team physically - you’ll need to do it virtually. After all, 2/3 of our time is not spent at work so you only have a 33% chance of being at the office when the crisis strikes.

  • You may get conflicting info from different sources with no clear way of sorting rumour from fact.

  • You will have no, or very little, control on information once it reaches the public domain.

  • You may not be able to access the incident site or get in touch with those at/near the site.

  • Your critical thinking will be affected by stress, even if you are not aware of it, and tend to jump to conclusions (unless you are using a formal decision-making process).

  • Your team will suffer stress effects, including decreased cognitive performance and increased bias in their decision-making. Some will cope much less well than you or they anticipated.

  • Your team’s performance will gradually or quickly diminish, often within 1-2 hours, due to stress and the combination of mental, physical and emotional demands of crisis work.

  • You and your team members will be under intense scrutiny/observation by stakeholders (media, executives, family, employees, govt, etc). This causes rapid fatigue and affects judgement and cognitive performance.

  • If your crisis is international, you may have to deal with highly complex communication challenges (due to technical reasons, geographical issues, time difference, political issues, language, procedural reasons etc).

  • Your usual means of communications may become unavailable due to technical issues or because they are blocked by others (governments, hackers etc)

  • Information can spread quickly and invisibly on platforms you’re not on, don't know of, or on private ones you can’t access.

  • Media (large or niche) will often want to run a story with or without your help or input.

  • Media (traditional, blogs etc) are increasingly publishing incorrect facts that amplify the crisis.

  • Competitors may take advantage of your crisis to gain market share while you’re down.

  • Stakeholders will demand and expect information and updates right from the start (ie within 20-30 min!).

  • Stakeholders may take independent action if they are not sufficiently informed or think the CMT is mismanaging the crisis.

  • In some type of crisis, other crisis teams may take independent action. For example a government crisis team, a family hired kidnap consultant firm, or another organization with people/assets at stake.

  • Your reputations (personal, team or organizational) are very vulnerable from the onset and damage can be long-lasting.

  • Social media makes it much easier for reporters to access sources (official and unofficial) and content (interviewees, images, video)

Please share other conditions you’ve come across. I’d love to hear it.

You can post them in the comment below or email me.