Leadership In Crisis – Work Interrupted: How to Deal With Crisis


My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy and Team Agility. At Team Agility we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products and become agile in a turbulent environment. In Intact Academy we organize training programs for coaches and consultants to teach them how to help businesses innovate. 

I’ve been a consultant for 35 years and a leader in multinational businesses for 23 years, and one thing I’ve learned over time is how to deal with crisis. Of course this is more relevant than ever today. 

In TA we define crisis in organizations in a quite precise way. 

An organization has a major external boundary which distinguishes the environment from the organization, and a major internal boundary, which distinguishes the leadership from the members. 

When the dynamics in an organization are stronger than the cohesion within an organization, there is usually a breach of boundaries and that’s what we call a crisis. I’ll explain. 

There are three types of dynamics:

  1. Pressure from the outside. A breach of the major external boundary means that the outside forces come inside. Then people are so preoccupied with dealing with this invasion that they forget to work. Imagine a country where someone breaches the frontier. Everybody goes to that frontier to push them back and then the normal work of that country is disrupted. The same goes for organizations. 
  2. Pressure on the leadership. Imagine members in an organization pushing on the leadership boundary, complaining, agitating, sabotaging, criticizing, not getting behind their leaders. If there’s a breach, it’s because the leadership isn’t cohesive enough to maintain that boundary. If there’s not enough leadership cohesion members become the “leaders”, which disrupts the functioning of the organization. When the employee dissatisfaction with leaders gets too high, then the group becomes a process group instead of a work group, causing a leadership breach or crisis. 
  3. Pressure between members. If there’s not enough cohesion within the units or departments in an organization, there’s a breach of the minor internal boundary and you see role confusion. One department complains constantly about the other department, for example the production department complaining about the sales and marketing. Sales has sold too much and production can’t keep up. Or marketing promises something and R & D can’t produce it. Those are traditional types of intrigues between departments. If that gets too strong, there’s a breach of the minor internal boundaries between departments and then the departments start concentrating on their fight instead of the work they’re supposed to do. We call that an internal breach or a crisis.

What can you do when there’s an organization in crisis? Well, there are a few of things:

  1. Change the leadership style.
  2. Reconfirm your structure. 
  3. Increase the cohesion. 
  4. Create unusual partnerships.

This is what we’ll look at in coming videos.

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Published On: april 24th, 2020By

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