How to Learn in the Aftermath of a Crisis
Suffering the negative consequences of a crisis once is bad enough. Suffering similar consequences in the future because you fail to learn in the aftermath
of a crisis is even worse since they were likely preventable.
Every crisis has lessons to teach, including insights into what caused it, what exacerbated it and what ultimately resolved it. As a leader, you can enhance your leadership skills and strengthen your team and organisation by putting in the effort to learn these lessons. Here’s how to go about it.
After struggling through a crisis, it’s natural to heave a sigh of relief and want to put the unpleasantness behind you. Crisis management is stressful and exhausting, no matter how short-lived or long-lasting the difficulties you face.
However, before you slip fully back into ‘normal’ mode, take the time to review the challenges you faced and the process of overcoming them. Specifically, try to make a note of the following:
- What were the catalysts and conditions leading up to the crisis?
- Which strategies were helpful in tackling the crisis? Which were unhelpful?
- What gaps emerged in your team’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to the difficulties you faced?
- What resources would have minimized the duration of the crisis or the harm that it caused?
Be sure to record these insights somewhere they won’t be lost or forgotten, such as in a report or memo. Memory is unreliable, so lessons that may seem obvious to you now may fade or change over time.
Also, be honest with yourself. You won’t do yourself a favour in the long run by painting an overly rosy picture of how the crisis was handled and glossing over missteps, as doing so can prevent you from learning and may lead to similar mistakes in the future.
Debrief your team
You may have led your team or organisation through the crisis, but that doesn’t mean you know everything that happened. Debriefing your team and seeking their input on what worked and what didn’t will provide you with a more complete picture of the overall situation.
Sharing your assessment of the situation with your team is also important. By sharing with them your understanding of the how, what and why of the crisis, you will empower your team to be vigilant for similar problems that may pop up in the future.
Translate insights into action
Hindsight can make it easier to identify what worked well and what didn’t in terms of how you and your team managed the crisis. However, if you don’t translate these insights and learning into action, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to improve your response during the next crisis.
Was there a communication breakdown during the crisis? If so, what communication tools or strategies would help prevent a similar breakdown next time? If you need to invest in new communication infrastructure, now is the time to take action on this.
Was there a skills gap in your team that hampered your crisis response? If so, would hiring new team members or providing supplementary training to existing team members make a difference next time? Recruitment and training both take time and planning, so the sooner you can start the better.
An opportunity for growth
Leaders generally try to steer their teams and organisations clear of crises. However, if you must face adversity, you can at least take something positive from it by making it a learning opportunity.
Whether in people or in organisations, growth is rarely a smooth path of successes and wins. It is those who persevere through adversity and learn from past crises and mistakes who come out stronger and more successful in the end.