Crisis is at the forefront of our daily existence more than ever before. But when non-profit organizations reframe our views and understandings crisis, big and small, it’s possible to prepare for whatever crisis comes our way. Because there will be others, even after 2020!
In the third episode of our learning and development webinar series, “From Crisis to Resilience: Strategies for Non-Profits" our founder and lead instructional designer, Leah Chang and guest speaker, Catarina Moreno, lead consultant for Ignite Management, shared practical tips, tools and strategies for leading your organization through crisis and beyond.
Read on for key strategies you can mobilize right away to build resilience within your teams, and watch the recorded webinar.
1. The concept of crisis: Is it linear or cyclical?
Right now when we think about a crisis, our minds immediately turn to COVID. Broadly speaking, a crisis is an extremely difficult or dangerous point in a situation (the key part of this definition being the word point). Crisis can happen to anyone and any organization: no matter how focused you are on your goals, something will always derail our best laid plans, sending us into a tailspin scrambling to get back on track.
Zooming out, however, we find that crisis is actually a circle or cycle. Organizations can go from chugging along to suddenly being impacted by an unforeseen event, situation, or liability. Successful organizations are prepared to deal with these eventualities, while others are slow to respond or find it hard to recover.
Rarely do things go as we planned from the outset, and our ability to adapt to these changing circumstances and demands is us flexing our resiliency muscle. This is even more important for non-profits than for corporations.
2. Building your resiliency muscle
Let’s use this analogy of building your resiliency muscle to help connect the concept to your organization. If we think about what it takes to build muscle in our bodies – repetition, practice, encouragement, complexity – the same principles can be applied to building resiliency within our team. The more we anticipate bumps in the road, practice overcoming them, and encourage each other in the face of adversity, the better when the next storm hits.
Building resilience is about building capacity, cognitive strength, emotional strength, anything that helps your team adapt in the face of an unexpected change. Psychologists view resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. One way to do this is to lead your team through a series of authentic scenarios. An activity we recommend is taking two or three scenarios of possible crises that may happen, walk through them with your team and then debrief how you might handle the situation.
A strong foundation of building an organizational culture with flexibility and adaptation can include how you have meetings, how you discuss important topics with your team, and how you make decisions in your organization. Are these processes are more hierarchical or flatter in your culture? Are you getting a diversity in perspectives from your team? Fostering multiple communication channels, having a clear strategy, knowing your direction and principles, and values that drive your organization.
3. How do you know when you are moving past the crisis?
During a crisis, there is usually a noticeable shift in the internal energy levels at your organization as people react in the moment. Tension may go up as people have an initial stress response but as individuals we can only remain at that high level of alert for so long. It’s really important to recognize that there are physiological effects to stress and crisis.
Indicators that your organization may be moving past the peak point of crisis are observable in the behaviour of your staff. There may be less conflict in the workplace, folks may seem more rested and tension may be less palpable. The initial stress response is ebbing.
At a team level you may be needing to meet less often. During a crisis business continuity meetings may happen almost daily but as you move through the crisis, this frequency will lessen. There may be more clarity on budgets. You may feel more prepared for the change - for example, the recent shift to working from home.
Understanding that there are ups and downs and how to recognize them is essential for leaders to help their teams anticipate and be prepared for challenges.
4. Avoiding tunnel vision
Cognitive tunnelling can happen when we respond and something unexpected - you get a big email or you have a difficult meeting. Your brain immediately goes into ultra focus mode. It turns a bright light on one thing and it doesn’t always help to respond to situations this way.
So how can we practice opening up our vision, to allow our brains to get back to the executive functioning instead of fight or flight?
Creating mental models, walking through scenarios, planning for different outcomes is the key. Use storytelling or narrative to describe the situations you may encounter. This is one way to help your team to identify successful mental models. Think about what might come to pass and practice your response with your team during both times of calm and times of stress. Build this into your organizational culture by doing this exercise on a regular basis, for example, as part of regular team or board meetings.
5. Activities to plan for multiple outcomes (plan B)
Rarely do things go exactly as planned. As an organization, identify some measurable outcomes that are important for success. Ideally you will do this during a time of calm. Practice how you may use these measurements to respond to any bumps in the road. This will help you to identify factors you may not have considered and prepare a response or highlight gaps in your plan that you may not have considered at the outset. It’s always a good idea to be guided by an overall organizational strategy as this makes pivoting to changing priorities easier.
One very simple technique that you can practice is to prepare three budgets for your project, program or activity. Anticipate the best case, middle case and worst case scenario to account for any kind of identified uncertainties. By making these strategic plans to address these uncertainties you are building your resiliency muscle and preparing to respond if any of these things do happen.
Another key technique is to assess your digital infrastructure and ensure your organization has the technological tools and digital skills to weather the long term impacts of COVID (and future crises). Organizations that had key systems like video conferencing, remote desktops, cloud systems and learning delivery systems (Webinars, Video hosting, or Learning Management Systems) in place before 2020 were much better prepared when COVID hit than other organizations who are still scrambling to put these in place today, eight plus months past the initial lockdown.
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Leah Chang is a learning consultant with 17+ years of experience designing online and classroom learning. In her spare time she goes on self-propelled travel adventures and tries to grow vegetables.