When Teams are in Triage Mode

Published: August 8, 2019

Crisis has a way of bringing teams together. The urgency of the moment defines roles and creates a common objective. The medical profession treats a crisis as a normal event by moving into triage mode. More than just setting priorities, triaging assumes the problem is bigger than the resources. Waste and politics are subtracted from the process. It doesn’t have to be an emergency to enter this mode. Consider these five ground rules.

Ground Rule #1: Allow natural leadership to rise to the occasion.

Instinct is a powerful emotion. For some teammates, the ability to stay calm and focused under pressure creates leadership capacity. With or without the title or job description, the power to see the big picture and the sequence of all of its parts is the talent that separates leaders from followers.

Ground Rule #2: Get clarity about roles and functions.

When it’s time to pitch in, the goal is to find a way to help that advances the cause without interfering with a teammate’s efforts to do the same. Maybe one person picks up where another leaves off. Perhaps someone joins another to multiply the force. Coordinating diverse contributions is the magic of teamwork.

Ground Rule #3: Call out waste, error and dysfunction immediately.

Deviance tends to be tolerated and, therefore, sanctioned. Often, it’s easier to ignore a problem than to hold someone accountable. When this occurs, the problem deepens through intentional or benign neglect. In a crisis situation, everyone understands the need to abandon anything that doesn’t have utility. Applied to non-crisis circumstances, a culture of accountability strengthens the focus of the team.

Ground Rule #4: Allow challenge to spark innovation.

Because time and resources are often insufficient for the size and scope of the problem, experimentation is encouraged. The greatest inventions begin as seemingly unsolvable problems. Struggle is the fuel of creativity.

Ground Rule #5: Take time to celebrate effective collaboration.

It feels good to accomplish the impossible. Before moving on to the next challenge, capture the beauty of the teamwork in some sort of acknowledgement. Beyond the congratulations, there are lessons learned to be delivered to future endeavors.

Why save your most efficient teamwork for emergencies? Imagine what could be accomplished if triage-level attention was devoted to non-critical challenges. Leaders step up. Roles are clear. Waste is eliminated. Innovation is ignited. Teammates join in celebration. The ground rules for effective teaming are the same regardless of the urgency. In a crisis, you apply them by necessity. In routine challenges, you apply them by choice.

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 University 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.