Run Effective Crisis Meetings


Standard meeting methods don't work in crisis, so ditch them. Instead use a proven crisis meeting method such as the one proposed here.  It requires a bit of practice but yields huge dividends in a crisis. 


Updated April 1


You've assembled a team and discussed the meet-act cycle and team size guidelines. Now you need an effective meeting and decision-making process. The efficiency and quality of your crisis meetings will often determine if your team succeeds or fails. Research and experience indicate that a structured, participatory, small-group and iterative decision-making process is more effective for urgent and important decisions in ambiguous and unfamiliar situations. This method is designed with these aspects in mind - and it really works in a crisis. You can read more about why this method works further below. 

Ground Rules

The method is simple but there are four rules that must be respected for it to work. First, the crisis manager must be discipled enough to follow the steps outlined below in sequence and prevent team members from jumping ahead (because they will have a tendency to do so). The sequence really matters.  Second, it only works if the core team is small (see team size guidelines.). Third, this method is designed to work in conjunction with a rapid meet-act cycle cycle.  And finally, the crisis manager should be decisive but can't be a dictator; they must really listen to the input of the team (to take advantage of crowd wisdom), encourage all members to participate and speak up (but not talk excessively) and quickly correct any disruptive behaviours. 

This method is also useful in your normal work, for routine problem-solving in teams. You and your team are much more likely to use this method in a crisis if you also use it in your day-to-day work. In a stressful crisis, you will nearly always default to methods you know and trust, not to methods you practice only a few times per year. 


The method is basically 5 quick rounds of questions, followed by decisions.  During the question rounds, each team member answers in turn, speaking for only 1-2 minutes. This seems short but it keeps the meeting short and forces everyone to come to the meeting prepared and to focus on what's important now (win!)


01 | Question Round 1: What Do We Know?

This step helps the team develop and maintain a common understanding "or picture" of the situation.

  1. The crisis manager (or someone designated) starts by giving a short update on the situation (2-5 min). 
  2. The crisis manager then asks the team: Do you have any new information on the situation? 
  3. Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.
  4. The notetaker records new information in the situation log.

02| Question Round 2: What Do We Need to KNOW?

This step helps the team think about what info is needed to improve their understanding of the (often fluid) situation. 

  1. The crisis manager then asks the team: What do you think we need to find out (to improve our understanding of the situation)? 
  2. Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.
  3. The notetaker notes answers on a white board (or equivalent). That way everyone can see what info is missing. 

03| Question Round 3: What Have We Done?

This step helps the team understand which of the assigned tasks have been completed since the last meeting. The point here is to check progress, so don't spend too much time talking about ongoing/incomplete tasks, unless there's an important delay everyone must be aware of. 

  1. The crisis manager asks: What tasks have you completed since the last meeting?
  2. Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.
  3. The notetaker records completed task in the action log (but does not note incomplete tasks, as this can lead to confusion). Keeping a log of what everyone has done is not only important for record keeping, but also ensure that new members can read-in quickly.

04| Question Round 4: What Should We Do Next?

This step forces the team to offer suggestions on what might be done next (during the "act" period right after the meeting). The point is to focus on the short-medium term. Longer term strategic decisions are important but better done separately (more on that later). 

  1. The crisis manager asks: What do you propose we do next?
  2. Each member answers in turn, if they have something to say.
  3. The notetaker writes suggestions on a white board (or equivalent). That way the crisis manager can see everyone's suggestions.

05| Question Round 5: Are we doing the right thing?

This is a quick step/pause to check that the team is not falling prey to ethical blindness, which is a common, serious and unconscious decision-making trap that affects many crisis teams. 

  1. The crisis manager asks: Assume for a moment that we acted on these decisions; how do our stakeholders, public, management and families perceive it?  Encourage each member of the team to speak up on this and discuss any issues that don't feel right.

06| Decision Time

The crisis manager then:

  1. Considers the missing info (from round 2) and the proposed tasks (from round 4);  
  2. Decides which actions should be done next
  3. Tasks each action point to a specific person.  
  4. Records the assigned tasks in the action log (often done by the notetaker).

Why does this method work?

In no particular order, here are some benefits of the method, as observed in practice. 

  • It's easy to learn, use, and remember a 5 question process. It's very memorable and portable in that sense. All you really need to start is 5 pieces of paper (or boards) - one for each question. 
  • Even in a room full of stressed out people, it's easy for the crisis manager to facilitate a meeting/process by asking a series of simple questions. 
  • By using the same 5 question method at every meeting, people show up knowing what to expect and know the meetings won't drag on longer than necessary.
  • It's often faster and easier to use that a standard "crisis meeting agenda" approach, especially for teams that don't have as much crisis experience or training time. 
  • It allows for easy record keeping
  • It allows each member to contribute and be heard, reduces frustration, and takes advantage of crowd wisdom to propose actions items (tasks). Team members feel more comfortable and in control, leading to better individual and team performance.
  • It's also useful for problem solving in day-to-day work/life. The more they use it in their daily work, the better they will use it come crisis day. 
  • It forces everyone though a process that fosters critical and practical thinking, while also keeping the team action-oriented. It helps reduce individual judgement biases.
  • The 4 questions have a natural conversational and briefing flow. For example if an executive, communication officer or new member needs an update it's easy to say "this is what we know", "this is what we are trying to find out", "this is what we've done" and "this is what we're planning to do" - easy easy!!  


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