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Roles and responsibilities of a crisis management team

The formation of a crisis management team that includes members with diverse skills can help organizations respond quickly and decisively to a crisis.

Companies facing a crisis -- such as the current COVID-19 pandemic -- must identify who will manage the company's response. In many cases, this involves the creation of a crisis management team, which can help divide and delegate the many responsibilities.

What is a crisis management team?

Simply put, a crisis management team is a group of people responsible for keeping the organization running in times of crisis. It is worth noting, however, that crisis management teams are not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most large organizations create crisis management teams when the organization is not actively responding to a crisis. These teams identify situations that could affect the organization, and then come up with a comprehensive plan for dealing with these events. Some examples of crisis events that these teams plan for might include fire, industrial accidents and natural disasters such as floods or hurricanes.

Not all crises involve physical events, such as fires and floods. Supply chain disruptions, class action litigation from disgruntled customers, or perhaps a market downturn can all present a crisis scenario for a business. From the standpoint of a crisis management plan, a crisis is usually defined as an event with the potential to cause significant harm to health or safety, the organization's finances or to the organization's reputation.

Crisis response team responsibilities

Organizations that do not currently have a crisis response team in place are finding that creating such a team puts them in a better position for dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The actual responsibilities of such a team will inevitably vary from one organization to the next, but the overall goals will remain largely consistent across all organizations. Those goals are in place to ensure the continuity of business, while also helping to maintain the health and safety of employees. Some of the individual tasks that an organization's crisis response team might handle include: 

  • Creating or following a crisis communication plan to keep employees, customers and the media updated;
  • ensuring that assets are in place to allow employees to work remotely;
  • developing protocols designed to protect the health of anyone who does have to come into the office (such as an IT pro who is responding to an outage); and
  • creating a plan to ensure the organization's financial survival, such as reducing expenses or applying for government grants.

Forming a crisis response team

Crisis response teams typically consist of employees from the Human Resources and legal departments, as well as key stakeholders from the IT department and the various business units. These teams are often large and diverse, because they are there to anticipate and formulate a response to all manner of potential crises.

Organizations that do not have a team in place when a crisis hits will benefit from creating a smaller team that is laser-focused on the situation at hand.

Organizations that do not have a team in place when a crisis hits will benefit from creating a smaller team that is laser-focused on the situation at hand.

One way to approach this task is to recruit people who are well-suited to address a specific aspect of the crisis response. For example, someone needs to develop protocols for keeping employees healthy, both now, and when the pandemic begins to subside. The development of new employee health protocols might be a good fit for someone from the HR department.

At least one representative from the organization's legal team should also be involved. As the team makes decisions in response to the crisis, someone from the legal team will need to review those decisions to make sure the team's actions are not inadvertently putting the organization into legal jeopardy.

One of the response team's key responsibilities is to keep the organization's business functioning. Therefore a representative from the IT department will typically need to participate on the team. The IT department will have to come up with a plan that allows users to work remotely. The IT department must also keep mission-critical workloads functioning even with no regular staff in the office.

When selecting team members, it is important to choose someone who will be responsible for communicating key information to employees, customers and the media. Ideally, such communications should come from one of the organization's senior executives.

Finally, the organization's finance department will play an integral role in the crisis response team. Procuring IT resources and implementing new health protocols will almost certainly require funding. The finance department will be needed to assist with funding for projects associated with the organization's response.

Representatives from the organization's finance department can identify the amount of incoming revenue needed to keep the organization afloat. They may be able to assist with ideas for bolstering diminishing revenues or helping to acquire government grants.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique situation. Even organizations that have a crisis management plan in place may find that their plan does not adequately address the current crisis. Putting together a team responsible for formulating the organization's COVID-19 response will be critical to the long-term survival of most organizations.

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