Fire!

Published: August 21, 2012

The six members of the leadership team entered the conference room looking preoccupied with the activities they abandoned to come to the team assessment debrief session. The team leader commented that the day had been like one fire drill after another.

Setting aside the agenda for a moment, I asked: How many days in a typical week turn out the way you planned? How about in a typical month? A typical year? The team had a quick consensus on all three questions: zero

The flow of the workshop assumed the character of the team: adaptable. Both the baseline assessment taken when the team was immersed in significant change and the recent follow-up survey unveiled the same core trait: poise under pressure. Their success as a team depended on it.

Most people adapt effectively under routine circumstances. Few, however, maintain their cool when the pressure is on or when unexpected events unfold. This is the test of a team’s health: the ability to recover following a disappointment, the capacity to stay focused on a goal when the risk of failure creates fear. While some leaders buckle under such conditions, others are nimble.

Consider your last crisis. Did you flinch? Did you freeze? Did you take thoughtful action? Every day is some variation of a fire drill. It’s how you adapt that matters most.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.