We all experience life-changing events and remember exactly where we were when they happened. My grandfather was eating breakfast at Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii, when the attack on Pearl Harbor began. My father was in Mr. Garber’s English class when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was at Stocker Center, home of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University, when the first airplane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. These events, each a crisis, created a “new normal” for life afterward, especially 9/11.
The “new normal” soon after a crisis significantly impacts your organization’s systems, processes, and their capacity. Business travelers and tourists were required to change their behaviors after 9/11. They could no longer carry on liquids greater than 3.4 ounces. They had to arrive hours before their scheduled boarding time and wait in long lines for thorough Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings.
The core fundamentals of team-based problem solving are essential for leaders to pivot and respond to the “new normal.” From the wisdom of a mentor I will mention later, three words beginning with the letter “C” share the necessity of team-based problem solving: Communicate, Critical Thinking, and Collaborate.
“In survival mode, our vision narrows to the threat, and our prefrontal cortex progressively shuts down. Reactivity replaces deliberation. Threat can help mobilize our attention, but when it comes to solving complex problems that have multiple variables, we need our highest cognitive resources.” -Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines
A fundamental element of Lean Six Sigma, a team-based, problem-solving methodology, is the skill of articulating and clarifying a problem. The problem statement is what you need to communicate clearly. Otherwise, you and your people react on impulse. Focus is lost in the hysteria and social-media noise. Poor decisions are made. In a recent “Leadership Moment,” Jim Mahoney cited three words used by a school district superintendent to summarize the response to a public health crisis: calm, calculated, and connected. Communicate the problem to begin providing the “calm” he references.
There is a shortage of time and resources in the “new normal.” Visit Walmart or Kroger and try to find basic supplies, such as toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Critical thinking is necessary to separate the problem into reasonably sized segments. It is also necessary to prioritize the best order to address each segment to ensure each one is solved, especially with your limited resources.
Everyone wants to help during a crisis and this “new normal.” There is an old adage that talks about “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Schwartz and Pines point out that people react impulsively during and after a crisis. When too many people try to work on something randomly, the quality of the final product could suffer as a result. Collaborate using a structured, team-based, problem-solving approach to avoid impulse and poor decision-making. Lean Six Sigma has proven effective for collaboration.
These three skills are necessary. Many leaders recognize it. On a recent visit to Franklin Local Schools, I noticed that communication, critical thinking, and collaboration are all included in their “Portrait of a Graduate” mural painted on a wall in the district office.
Thank you for efforts to lead amid this crisis. Stay safe.