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Build That Team... Right Now!

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Here's a scenario from my own past experience.

You have been called in at short notice to lead a team that's being put together very quickly to deal with a crisis. You do not know any of the people who will be on your team; all you know about them is that they have training and experience (you don't know how much) in the roles that they are to fulfil in the team. Your team members do not know each other well; some of them may have worked together before in similar circumstances, but that could have been years ago. You and your team will be working out of a temporary office facility in an unfamiliar city.

The moment you walk in the door you are greeted by someone you don't know (let's call her Jane) who reads your name badge and gasps, "thank God you're here, we've got a developing disaster situation on our hands here and we need to make some decisions, right now!" She goes on to tell you that the local Member of Parliament will be arriving some time in the next hour looking for a briefing on the situation, bringing with him a delegation from the local and national media who will want to do an on-camera interview with you.

You follow Jane into the Operations Room, and the immediate impression you get is of organized chaos. Phones are ringing, lots of people are running around with bits of paper, scribbling cryptic notes on whiteboards and generally looking stressed to the max. You notice that some critical positions have not been filled: there are vacant workstations waiting for people who are yet to arrive.

You look around the room for someone who appears to be running things, but you don't see them.

"Who's in charge?" you ask Jane.

"Oh," she says, "that'll be Jim, but he said he had to duck out for an hour. I expect he'll be back soon."

Getting the picture?

The question is, what do you do? Or perhaps most importantly, what do you do first? Ignore the crisis itself, because you have a more urgent task on your hands before you begin to tackle that.

Your challenge, the moment you step through that door, is to pull these people together as a team. You don't know them, they don't know you, but one thing every one of you knows is that you won't get anywhere without teamwork.

Before we go any further I'd like you to take a moment to imagine yourself in the situation I've just described for you. How does it feel? Do you feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed? Or do you feel energised, confident, ready to step in and take charge?

I've said before that the cardinal rule of leadership is "know thyself". Perhaps you can see how important that is in the situation we're discussing here. If you know yourself then you'll be aware of how you're feeling and you'll be able to manage your feelings and emotions. You know that allowing yourself to feel overwhelmed won't help you, and so rather than allowing that feeling to build up and control you, you're going to take a deep breath, remember who you are, and then face the situation with confidence.

Look around the room. Are you seeing confident people here? Possibly there are signs of it, but it's wearing thin. These people need a confident leader to restore their own confidence in themselves, so before you do anything else you'd better show them that a confident leader - you! - has arrived. As you walk into the room, you know that before you even say a word you need to be projecting confidence. Wipe that worried frown off your face. Stand up straight. Smile! Look like you want to be there. Then you can begin...

Perhaps not many of you will ever find yourselves having to pull a team together under circumstances like this, but you will at some point in your leadership career have to build a team and lead them to achieve some objective. The principles of team building are exactly the same regardless of the circumstances, it's just that in the example I've given you here you're under extreme time pressure and you don't have the luxury of being able to get to know your people and their capabilities before assigning tasks and getting down to work. If you've had some practice at team building under "peacetime" conditions, you'll be more confident about tackling it in a crisis.

In this blog post I'm not going to tell you how the crisis scenario plays out. I will leave that for a future workshop where we can fully discuss and work through the various issues. What I'd like you to do now, though, is to just imagine yourself in the position of the leader I describe here. Consider how you would deal with your own feelings so that you could effectively take the lead. Do you know yourself well enough? Do you have enough self confidence and self belief? What can you do right now to build those things so that you'll be ready to face whatever leadership challenge life throws at you?

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