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The Upside of Crisis

By Patrick Lencioni - January 2006

No one hopes for a crisis, and rightly so. Certainly this applies to teams and organizations. Most leaders would probably say one of their primary responsibilities is to prevent a crisis from occurring.

However, I have found that a powerful lesson for organizations can be found smack dab in the middle of a crisis. It isn’t uncommon for a leader to say, “our team has never pulled together more than when we were facing a crisis.” Maybe it’s the prospect of going out of business or dealing with a public relations catastrophe or even a natural disaster that causes people to rally.

And while this may not seem surprising, it begs the question, “why?” Why do people set aside their usual squabbles and petty politics in the midst of a crisis?

I found an answer while pondering which teams and organizations live in a perpetual state of crisis every day. Consider firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and soldiers in the heat of a rescue mission or battle. These are certainly some of the least political and divisive teams that you’ll ever find. For them, disagreement about budgets and lines of responsibility are inconceivable. Or even worse, deadly. And that’s the point. When the stakes are clear and high – life or death – well-intentioned human beings can’t help but focus on the overriding task at hand. Which is precisely what happens to companies in crisis: they focus around a compelling, over-arching goal.

In my newly released book, Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, I ask the question, why wait for a crisis to rally your team or organization? Create a sense of sharing and a compelling purpose all the time. We call this rallying cry a thematic goal. This involves deciding the one thing that matters most in the organization and rallying your people around it. Who knows? You may find that by doing so, you’ll avoid a crisis.