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3 Ways To Create An Adaptive Team To Manage Any Crisis

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If we’ve learned anything from social distancing, it’s that creativity counts. In how we teach our kids, how we handle our roomies or spouses 24/7, and, of course, how we work. 

Over the past half a year, we have been hosting roundtables with in-house leaders in design, experience, and operations so they can share ideas on how to move business forward. Called InsideOut, these many, many hours of discussion always indicate one key concept: Adaptive teams are key to survival in times of crisis.

Read on to glean information from top in-house leaders on helping your team not just adapt and survive, but adapt and thrive.

Let them hear you roar

At its core, a Tiger Team is a group of specialists formed to work on specific goals. The term existed long before COVID-19. It first came to light in a 1964 paper called Program Management in Design & Development, and NASA used a Tiger Team during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission to safely bring back the astronauts after a service module malfunction. 

The agility and flexibility of a Tiger Team is essential right now. A team like this consists of experts from multiple disciplines put together to solve new problems quickly. Of course, your organization has existing business goals and day-to-day operations, but with a global pandemic, you may also be juggling how to talk to customers, how to deal with operational disruptions, how to coordinate a fully remote staff and a host of other issues. A Tiger Team is responsible for pouncing on those types of challenges. In fact, a common motto for such a team is “Test Early, Fail Fast.”

Your Tiger Team may generate ideas on everything from the appropriate tone to use in customer emails to incorporating live chat on your site to aligning business policies to the current situation. Domino’s Pizza had its engineering team include an option for ‘contactless delivery’ into the app before cities even had implemented shelter-in-place orders. The drivers wear gloves, set your pizza on your porch, send a text and you never even have to see each other.

These types of high-impact, high-profile, mission-critical projects demand a Tiger Team. Such a team can help keep your core team focused, easily adjust to changing priorities, and keep the work flowing. 

You might already have people in mind for your Tiger Team and be able to restructure your current workforce around to create it—maybe it’s a UX lead, a CX analyst, an IT service designer, and your content marketing manager. Who you pull in depends on what you are trying to solve. But if you do need additional support, a trusted partner can help build a team dedicated to tackling rapid-fire day-to-day issues. 

Reinvent yourselves

For many of us, it’s anything but business as usual. The world has changed and we have to change too. Teaching, mental health therapy, even perusing a museum has gone fully digital. As the CEO of Jackman Reinvents points out, “Most of the time these attitudes evolve slowly, but this crisis has upended everything, including customers’ mindsets. This means that every business needs to quickly glean what is changing, and identify specific insights that will help them either adjust or completely pivot their strategy.”

Fortune 500 company the Lear Corporation, a 103-year-old maker of electrical components and seats for cars with $21B in sales in 2018, is finding other ways to put some of its 170,000 employees to work. For starters, they are making over 125,000 protective masks daily. Plus, they are developing a detailed 52-page handbook for how to safely reopen their manufacturing facilities in 39 countries (including China’s Hubei province where the virus was first detected), where and when they legally can do so. CEO Ray Scott says, “I felt like there wasn’t anything you could just take off the shelf and use.”

One creative design leader we spoke to is adapting his staff as well. He took his 16-person experiential design team for live events and is translating their skill sets into virtual events. Because we can’t connect in real life at the moment, there’s an even bigger need for digital experiences that are meaningful and memorable, and this team will be set up for cyber success. 

You may also find that you have the right people in place yet they need additional skills to make these new ways of business work. Many online learning platforms are offering free courses right now, including Coursera, Udemy, and FutureLearn. If your team needs lessons in design, content, UX/UI, and development, check out the no-cost options from Aquent Gymnasium. By introducing your employees to new skills, you can shape them for the work that is available, enhance the team’s future capabilities, and retain more of them, even when things are precarious.

Build an air-tight business case

As the typical ways of working continue to shift, as a manager you will inevitably face decisions that keep you up at night (if you haven’t already). Do you have the right people in place? Can you be as productive when you’re fully remote? Are reduced or flex hours an option? Will top executives agree to pay cuts? Are furloughs inevitable? 

While CEOs of FedEx, Bank of America, Visa, Salesforce, and Morgan Stanley have pledged that their organizations won’t face layoffs due to the coronavirus, it’s a tough promise to make. As of this writing, more than 22 million people are currently unemployed.

Now is the time for a rock-solid case for the value of your team. You need it to retain the staff to get the work done, shine a spotlight on the specific skills your team brings to the table, and better align those skills to the ongoing work. Not sure where to start? Harvard Business Review has some very effective suggestions

These thought starters should help make your team more adaptive, from CX to UX, service design to graphic design, content marketing to content management—and all the creative roles in between. The effects of COVID-19 will be far-reaching and long-lasting, so you’ll have to adapt. 

And adapt again.

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