Team size plays an important role in crisis team performance.
Don't underestimate this.
01 | USE an Inner and Outer-Core STRUCTURE
Practice and research clearly show that large groups are good for brainstorming but slow to make decisions, while smaller ones are more action-oriented but have less analytical power and are more prone to individual bias and certain decision-making traps. In a crisis, we want the brainpower and "crowd-wisdom" of a large group but the decisiveness of a small one. This method is designed to help you find that sweet spot.
For this reason, most professional crisis management groups are led by a small team of decision-makers (which we will call the inner-core) who are supported by several small sub-teams (the outer-core teams). Together they form the crisis management group.
02 | Standby Teams
Most organisations outside the emergency services don't have a dedicated full-time crisis team. Instead, they use "standby teams" composed of regular employees (with some crisis training) who assemble in the event of a crisis.
Standby teams and full-time crisis teams have very different skillset, experience, training and team dynamics. This is why many of the crisis management tools and structure, which were designed with full-time teams in mind, don't work for most corporate standby teams.
The methods on this website and the team guidelines describe below are aimed at standby teams, since this what most organisations use.
03| INNER CORE TEAM SIZE
The best inner-core teams usually have 4-6 members, excluding quiet notetakers and (truly) silent observers.
In practice, inner-core teams of 7 or more tend to be (much) too slow and indecisive for crisis management, and teams of 3 or less tend to lack sufficient reflection capacity, be more biased, and fall into other decision-making traps.
A word of warning! Many organisations make the mistake of assembling a large inner-core team at the onset of a crisis. This often happens because the executive calls in all their department heads and/or because (too) many employees want to lend a hand. The intentions are good but the effect is devastating on crisis management performance. It often impedes decision-making at the start of the crisis, just when smart and decisive action is needed most.
Instead, limit the inner-core to 6 people (excluding notetakers) and hold separate briefing sessions for departments heads etc. If you need to add someone to the inner-core, then send someone out. It is extremely important to keep the inner-core small and action-oriented, and everyone on the core team needs to be told this (so that they understand when they get replaced or transferred to an outer-core team).
04 | OUTER CORE TEAM SIZE
Aim for outer-core teams of 4-6 people, for the same reasons stated above. Of course, there will be exceptions such as large call-centre teams, but even these can be broken down into more effective sub-groups headed by a sub-group leader.
Be careful to use the correct team size and to adjust the size when necessary. For example, if you are using an outer-core team to develop best and worst case scenarios, avoid very small teams, as these produce fewer options. On the other hand, if you need an action-oriented team to resolve a specific technical issue on a short deadline, make the team as small as possible.
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