Crisis management – are you game fit?

Crisis Management

– are you game fit?

Published on March 13th, 2018

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise – I’m not talking about going to the gym here but the parallels are clear. If you want to be game fit to respond effectively when a crisis hits, then you are going to need to practice crisis management exercises.

We must remember (and sometimes diplomatically remind our executive team!) that the skills they have honed whilst managing day-to-day business, however hectic it may get, may not cut it during a crisis. It would be like saying “I walk to work every day so of course I can run a marathon with a few 10km sprints thrown in for good measure.” This is not an indictment of their skills as a management team but a recognition that a crisis brings with it a wholly different pace, jeopardy, and level of uncertainty.

With that in mind, here are some of my top tips on how to conduct a successful exercise to help your management team become a game fit crisis management team.


  • Know what a successful exercise is – set clear goals so that your crisis management team knows what they are signing up to achieve. Here just a few examples:
    • Familiarise the top management team with the crisis management;
    • Develop the team into a single, cohesive unit capable of managing major events;
    • Encourage awareness of the complexity, uncertainty and organizational pressures of a crisis;
    • Illustrate through use of a scenario, the interconnectivity, cascading nature and longevity of a crisis.


  • Take the time to build a plausible scenario – It is the detail that makes a scenario engaging and believable:
    • Always provide a back story for context: it is very rare that a crisis comes from nowhere, there are usually a prevailing set of conditions have been forming for some time.
    • Reference real world information like names of customers, partners, and competitors to ground the scenario into the day-to-day reality of the exercise participants.
    • Pay close attention to the time and date that the hypothetical scenario starts. If feasible, try to match the ‘exercise time’ with the actual time that the exercise will be run – this will also assist the facilitation.
    • If possible, have the plausibility of the scenario scrutinised in advance by internal subject matter experts, to ensure realism.
    • Remember that in a true crisis, the crisis management team will likely be directing and indeed enabling other response teams across the organisation. Therefore, any crisis management exercise should factor in the relationship to these other groups. Emphasis should be placed on lines of communication, delegation/escalation and decision logging.
    • To add a flavour of ‘doing’ to the exercise, you may punctuate it with short break out tasks. For example, preparing a situation report for the board or preparing a disclosure to a regulator.
    • When culturally acceptable, try to add some humour to the exercise, especially at the start. It generally makes it more enjoyable and memorable for all.
    • Decide whether the exercise should be in conducted person or by tele/video conference. Realistically few management teams are ever fully present at the same time in the same location. Video and teleconferencing has become a mainstay of modern business interactions. There is a lot to be said for in person exercises where team members can see the whites of each other’s eyes; this may not however prepare them for the reality that they will likely have to manage the crisis, at least initially, over a conference bridge.

*If you are expecting to be reliant on video or conference bridges during a crisis, then make sure you are using resilient services.


  • Take the time to provide for crisis management refresher training, including mini case studies, during the pre-brief. Make sure you cater this to the experience in the room. This may even be in the form of 1-to-1’s, especially for new members of the team.
  • Set the ‘rules of the game’ – outline what is expected of them during the exercise, including how to go about role-play. Remind them that the scenario is only hypothetical and to embrace the artificiality. Yes, there will be some leaps of the imagination needed for the sake of the scenario but better that than being unprepared.
  • The scenario should neither be too complex nor too simple. If too complex it has the potential to alienate the audience and resolution will not be possible in the allotted time. If too simple, the scenario may not provide sufficient jeopardy and need for strategic decision-making. As a client of mine recently pointed out, “You are not worth your salt unless you give the Exec’s a real challenge to engage them”.


  • Do not rush to fill any awkward silence or calm any chaotic quarrels. As a facilitator you will need to walk a fine line between guiding the exercise participants through the challenges, but also stepping back and letting indecision or chaos ensue. In my experience these uncomfortable moments in an exercise are usually short lived but can be the starkest and most educational for the participants. These moments often become the inflection points where the crisis management team gets behind the idea of applying real structure to their crisis management approach.


  • Use a conclusion slide or wrap up narrative at the end of the exercise to enable a plausible stand down of the crisis response. There is nothing more annoying to an exercise participants than leaving the scenario open ended it is like missing the end of a great movie.
  • Do not wait to debrief. It is called a hot debrief for a reason – take the opportunity to capture the feedback on how the team felt they responded. Start with three simple questions – What went well? What didn’t? and Why?
  • Tell them what is next. Hopefully by this point you have a fully engaged audience, motivated by the challenge they have just been through. Use this heightened moment of engagement to get them to commit to their next exercise and tackling whatever issues and opportunities the exercise presented.


  • Do not let the follow up through just be an afterthought. After all the effort that went into planning and delivery of the exercise, it would all too easy to neglect any formal reflection/write up of issues and actions. These will be some of the most impactful improvements you will make to your organisations overall resilience, so get them actioned and look forward to the next exercise!