A Sporting Analogy (and Poll)

Pick a team sport.  Any sport.  Your team gathers to prepare for the upcoming season.  In your first meeting, your coach hands each of you a highly detailed playbook.  He reads aloud each page to your team.  The playbook details:

  • Goals for the season and winning strategies
  • Your team’s hierarchy:  captains, starters, matchups against various opponents, backups, etc.
  • On-field expectations:  how players should call plays, anticipate, adjust, communicate
  • A “matchup” assessment  of the team’s strengths and weaknesses versus each opponent that might be faced during the season

The coach tells you that pre-season practice will focus only on complete study of the playbook.  As the season nears, tests will be administered to gauge comprehension of the playbook.  After each in-season game, the playbook may be adjusted to capture any new key lessons from wins and losses and subsequent practice time will ensure comprehension of those playbook changes.

Before the meeting adjourns, you ask, “Coach, when will we practice drills?  Are there any team chemistry-building exercises?  Can we have an intra-squad scrimmage to practice some of these plays?”

“The playbook,” Coach replies, “has all of the answers.  Know the playbook and you will know victory.”

Sound familiar?

Sadly, this mirrors the crisis management approach for many organizations.  The fixation on the crisis plan provides a false sense of confidence and complacency, in my view.  And I’m not alone.  Here are two recent articles that expand on my point:

If you agree that training/drills need to improve the behaviors and skills of the crisis management individuals, rather than only test plan comprehension, check out one of my earlier blog posts:  Crisis Management Training:  Choose Wisely.

I also want to make clear that I’m not anti-plan.  A well-constructed crisis plan is a critical element toward a successful capability.  But it’s only a piece of the pie. 

For fun, I’m including a poll with two draconian choices.   You know my vote.  I’d love to know which one you’d choose and if you care to elaborate, please use the comments section below.

Update (May 11):  If you are connected through LinkedIn, you should check out this comment thread that has flowered on this topic.

15 thoughts on “A Sporting Analogy (and Poll)”

  1. JD, people, people, people every time. By definition, a crisis is a dynamic event, so why use a static plan? Crisis response frameworks are important, but with human nature, unpredicted twists, strange external reactions – dynamic systems continually transform themselves and people can respond to that, not plans. Besides, evolutionary planning and scenario planning are huge fun and add spice to any working day!
    Cheers, geoff

  2. Don't forget the other piece – simulations. My experience taught me that a basic plan, a trained team and as frequent as possible simulations (3-hour desk-top sessions) were great at pointing out where the plan and the team needed to be strengthened.

    1. Jim, you are so right, and I'm so glad that you separate testing (simulations) from training. I have several posts here that continually try to make that distinction — thank you for beating the same drum!

  3. No question it is people, AND a good leader. Crisis leadership is more about who you are than what you know. No learned crisis leadership skill will overcome a lack of character, ethics or integrity. In my experience, your team will react as they are trained, because knowing what to do can be the difference between chaos and calm, or even life and death.

  4. Great addition, Rick. I believe that crisis leaders have three important "mindset attributes" that drive their ability to manage: credibility, focus and imagination. Thanks for contributing here.

  5. We have recently blogged about this on our company web site. As a disaster mitigation specialist, I can testify that the strength of the recovery comes from the strength of leadership, strength of character in the individuals within the crisis team, supported by training and relevant rehearsal scenario's.

    In most cases of fires, floods and escape of hazourdous materials I have dealt with, I have worked with and supported calm, collected and focussed crisis teams, with little or no experience of what we are dealing with on their site, but have the strength of character essential in preventing an incident turning into a disaster……with a litte help from us I might add.


    1. Thanks for participating, Russell. It's nice to know there's corollaries between disaster mitigation (hazard management) and other forms of crisis management (like reputation management, which is my main focus).

  6. Thanks mate. Check out our website James, and you'll see that we deal with a significant range of disaster mitigation work that weaves a thread through Crisis Management. http://www.disasternet.co.uk
    Many Business Continuity Managers fail to ask themselves the following questions, which can add significant stress to crisis teams in an event, they are the following:-

    Who will help manage the crisis for us?
    Will we know which services to contact in the event of a crisis?
    Can we ensure that service providers will be willing to prioritise their service to us?
    How quickly can we provide insurers with a breakdown of the likely costs for the physical recovery?

    The above is a sample of questions that are often missed, and in my opinion are relevant and vital in supporting a crisis management/response team within the BCP.


    1. Good questions to ask. In fact, if you select "business continuity" on the "tags" menu on the left, you'll see an article on this blog called "Sharing a Lament with our BCP Brethren" where we explore some of those issues.

  7. The best plan ever developed starts to deterioate as soon as we cross the "Line of departure". Plans that provide flexibility to adapt to unseen friction, and allows subordinates to adjust on the fly without having to wait for the "Head Shed" to give approval will always win the day.

    1. I agree with most of what you say, Bret. However, I do believe in "Head Shed" oversight as long as it does not impede necessary action. In the end, you need balance. Thanks for participating.

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