When a crisis strikes an organization it’s crucial that everyone pulls together. This may not always be easy – but it is critical. That’s because one department’s decisions will typically affect other stakeholders, something known as interdependence. A good example of this is pass appreciation in soccer. Imagine a defender drills the ball to their goalkeeper’s weak foot, possession is lost, and a goal is conceded. The defender’s decision, to strike the ball hard to the keeper’s weak side, has cost the team. It could also cost the manager their job.

You might be pointing your finger at the defender for their recklessness; however, attributing blame during a crisis is unwise, especially when all the facts aren’t available. In the above scenario, you weren’t told about the defender’s situation. What if they were under pressure from an earlier bad decision? The point is, teams must collaborate to minimize, and recover quickly from, poor decisions in a crisis – not pass the buck.

Angelo A. Camillo, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at Woodbury University, says interdependence is “the quality or condition of being interdependent, or mutually reliant on each other with mutually dependent elements”. In other words, it’s the relationship between multiple parties that depend on each other to strive. The Covid-19 pandemic is a real-world example of interdependence; the aging CEO’s health relies on the office cleaner doing their job, the office cleaner relies on manufacturers delivering antiviral products, and so on. Without everyone pulling their weight, the crisis amplifies.

Interdependence in a corporate crisis: from employees to suppliers

Interdependence in a corporate crisis relates to situations where departments and individuals rely on each other’s decision-making to minimize negative impacts. It increases the complexity of an organizational crisis, according to PWC, because moving parts must work in tandem: “a crisis is never more dangerous than when it spins off one or several ancillary crises – each of which can create its own feedback loop of consequences, both internal and external.” 

If managed poorly, interdependencies may cause a breakdown in communication affecting customer service, product quality, or even product safety. That’s because they can impact supply chains, customers, and shareholders, making it vital that crisis management teams practice responding both as a unit and individually.

–         Gandhi

A predesignated crisis leader should head up crisis response and work to minimize the impact of interdependencies. They should have strong leadership, situational awareness, and decision-making qualities, and also be approachable. Nobody wants to inform an aloof or feared boss about mishaps during a crisis, and employing this type of character could delay critical information sharing.

Below the crisis leader, at the silver level of the command structure, there should be thorough and continuous information sharing (barring the point of impact, where concision may be key to de-escalation, a la Sully’s Hudson River landing comms).  

It’s also important during the information-gathering stage to avoid defaulting to selected stakeholders. The crisis leader should account for the perspectives of every key stakeholder, both internal and external; effective two-way communication can even lead to external stakeholders advocating for you during a crisis. Bias must also be avoided. If the leader’s personal experiences are skewed or aligned a certain way, the patterns created from those – and therefore the leader’s intuition – will also be biased.

Supply chain interdependencies have affected many nations’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s vaccine supply, for example, was threatened by strained relations with the EU, which considered banning exports of the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine, believing that AstraZeneca was wrongly prioritizing the UK. Meanwhile, delayed vaccine shipments from India also threatened the UK’s inoculation rollout. During a crisis, moving parts such as these must constantly be assessed, and stakeholders must constantly be managed to achieve desirable outcomes. Leaders, however, should prepare for their choices to be scrutinized – especially when there are ethical implications. 

Teamwork can mitigate the risk posed by interdependence

Teamwork is a pillar of effective crisis response and the key to managing interdependencies. Frequent and timely cross-team communication will minimize poor decision-making, which is why those who work synchronously and communicate effectively during a crisis invariably fare better. An HBR study of a global law firm during the 2007–08 financial crisis found its top 30% most-collaborative partners grew their revenue. Those who hunkered down and guarded their work were far less profitable, demonstrating the importance of collaboration during testing times. Most impressive, however, is that the revenue trajectory of the most collaborative partners improved post-crisis, suggesting they even built back stronger. Uncollaborative partners, on the other hand, still hadn’t recovered five years on.

Great teamwork and collaboration can turn a crisis into a positive. Rather than returning to the status quo, organizations that ride the storm can improve internal cohesion, boost morale, and implement refined processes, which can of course improve long-term performance. Most companies (93%) who self-identify as “in a better place” following a crisis acted as a team when it mattered.

The art of teamwork

Teams today are more dispersed, more fluid, and more technologically driven than teams of 20 years ago when a typical week might have seen 40 employees work 40 hours in the same four walls. The digital revolution has made remote collaboration possible, but it’s thrown up obstacles too. Teamwork skills are therefore more important than ever.

J. Richard Hackman, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University, began studying teams in the 1970s and believes that it isn’t personalities or behaviors of individuals that make a successful team, but rather that a team has a compelling direction, strong structure, and supportive context. There are countless elements that go into making a strong team – beyond the scope of this blog – but Hackman says there are core questions that must be satisfied before a team can perform optimally, including:

  • Does the team’s structure – its task, composition, and core norms of conduct – enable rather than impede teamwork?
  • Does the team’s social system context provide the resources and support that members need to carry out their collective work?
  • Is competent coaching available to help members get over rough spots and take advantage of emerging opportunities?

When it comes to preparing an organization – a collection of teams – to respond to a crisis, training must incorporate stakeholders from various departments and not just rely on a few board members running through a tabletop exercise. And this is possible even when most of the world is operating remotely.

Improving teamwork and human preparedness with the Cyber Crisis Simulator

Nearly 70% of leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the last five years – with the average number of crises experienced being three. And with cyberattacks constantly on the rise, preparing your organization to respond is crucial.

Immersive Labs’ Cyber Crisis Simulator is a solution with low entry barriers and low organizational burden. It is delivered entirely through the browser which enables increased frequency of exercise at a decreased cost and eliminates the hassle of legacy table-topping.  It is also a solution relevant to a world of dispersed and remote teams.

Our latest development will see the introduction of multi-role scenarios that allow different parts of an organization to exercise in tandem. These scenarios will account for interdependencies, and each decision will impact the next; this enables teams to grasp the importance of teamwork and improve communication and situational awareness under pressure.

Through regular exercising using the simulator’s multi-role scenarios, an organization’s crisis preparedness will become a competitive advantage. There is long-term value in being crisis fit, with many boards and investors now considering crisis preparedness a key performance indicator (KPI).

If your organization is ready to begin stress-testing its crisis response capability across the board, book a Cyber Crisis Simulator demo using the button below.

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April 15, 2021


Immersive Labs