The Importance of Training the Team in the Crisis Plan

Thom Weidlich 09.06.18


A crisis communications plan isn’t very useful if it isn’t tested and understood by all crisis team members. The moment an employee is injured or a product is found to be defective is not the moment to start exploring the document that guides you through that crisis. The team needs to be trained in the plan. Training raises several issues of its own.

There is much to learn from such training. You may see what in the plan doesn’t work or needs to be fine-tuned. You may also see that certain team members aren’t right for their roles and need to be replaced — because they don’t seem interested in their assigned tasks, are too dominant, or don’t believe in the mission of such preparation.

Having the training program also shows that the company or organization is committed to getting crisis response right.

Most importantly, training helps ensure that, when a crisis hits, the team is familiar with the procedures to follow and isn’t just winging it. The idea is to have a solid crisis communications team that’s comfortable and assured in responding. Of course, people chosen to be backup members of the crisis team should be part of the training. Depending on the size of your organization, you may even want to provide training for people outside the official team.

As we recently noted, Deloitte found in a survey that, while big companies had crisis response plans in place, their lack of training or revelations from experiencing a crisis showed they may be overconfident in their ability to handle a crisis.

Despite having plans in place, the respondents named as challenges to effective crisis response (in descending order) the effectiveness of leadership and decision-making, the effectiveness of teamwork, familiarity with crisis structure and process, and clarity of roles and responsibilities.

Information Sharing

Another challenging area was information sharing and management. That underscores the importance of incorporating technology, including virtual training. That is why tools like CrisisResponsePro are so important.

Set training dates should be part of the crisis plan itself. Some kind of training should be conducted at least quarterly.

Which raises another issue: What kind of training? There are basically three types:

  • Drills of discrete parts of the plan,
  • Table-meeting run-throughs of a simulated crisis, and
  • Live run-throughs of a simulated crisis.

We suggest that throughout the year one drill be done for each of the most important parts of the plan (such as formulating the initial and second messages), table meeting run-throughs be done at least twice, and a live run-through at least once.

Demanding Questions

We say this even though we’re not the biggest fans of live run-throughs, which can involve team members frantically running around the facility. In that training type, trainers (usually outside consultants) portray, for example, reporters or regulators who phone in with demanding questions or employees providing new facts on the ground that change the scenario.

While that can be useful, it can also be expensive and a little awkward, with employees playacting at something they may very well have to confront for real.

We prefer table meeting run-throughs where the team can discuss the possible challenges that may crop up in a crisis and the best approaches for handling them. This is especially so because the team members will understand the dangers the company faces. In a certain sense, this is more akin to a review of the plan than a full-blown fire drill.

But whichever approach you decide to take, the point is: Don’t let training fall off the company calendar. It’s an important part of taking crisis communications seriously.

Photo credit: Stockfour/Shutterstock

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Related:Don’t Wait for the Crisis to Assign Team Members Their Roles