Debriefing in and After a Crisis

Crises are inevitable, given the theological reality we live in a fallen world. They’re coming, if they haven’t already landed. I also know that, at the time of this writing, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic. And this global health crisis has caused many other incident and issue-based crises that our organizations and churches are having to lead through.

As we lead our respective ministries and organizations through this crisis and other crises that have or will arises, one of the greatest mistakes you can make as a leader is not learning in and from your experiences—including your failures.

Leadership in crises provides us as leaders, not to mention our teams, with invaluable information for how we can grow as both individuals and teams (or organizations). However, to leverage our crisis experiences we will need to carve out time both during and after the crisis to debrief what we are learning and what we have learned.

What we are learning …

In a crisis you are constantly assessing the effectiveness of you and your organization in navigating the unraveling of order and the threat to flourishing that the crisis poses. As a result, you are making the necessary decisions to craft a plan of action or to engage and execute.

Nevertheless, in the midst of the crisis, there are some areas you need to be debriefing in both yourself as a leader and with your team in the organization.

1. Debrief Your Communication.

Ask yourself and your team the following questions:

• How well is the leader communicating with the team?
• How well are we communicating with one another?
• How well are we communicating with our constituents?
• What changes do we need to make to communicate more effectively?
• What kind of feedback are we receiving from other team members about our communication? From our constituents?

Remember, communication is currency. The more you communicate, the wealthier you and your team become in the midst of crisis. But if you don’t have communication—an effective communication at that—you will impoverish your team and organization through the crisis.

2. Debrief Your Collaboration.

Ask yourself and your team the following questions:

• How well are we working together?
• Are there any personal issues or problems we need to address?
• Does everyone feel valued?
• How well are we doing at executing our values as an organization? As a team?

Failure to collaborate as a team in and through a crisis will definitely lead to a disaster. A leader cannot rely on his or her own strength, creativity, and ingenuity during a crisis. In addition, if an organization or team puts all its eggs in the basket of their leader, during a crisis, it is sure to crash.

Collaboration is the atmosphere where creativity, ingenuity, and stamina are able to breathe. Without collaboration, the team and the organization will be deprived of oxygen.

Therefore, it is important throughout the crisis you and your team are debriefing together on how well you are collaborating together.

3. Debrief the Present Course.

Ask yourself and your team the following questions:

• Can you summarize our current plan of action?
• What are we attempting to engage and execute?
• What is going well?
• What areas or actions need improving?
• Is there anything we need to clarify?
• What should we start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing?
• What are the current threats the crisis is posing to our organization? What are different about these threats than earlier ones?

Healthy communication and collaboration clear the way for an honest debrief regarding the present course.

What we have learned …

The duration of a crisis, or its aftermath, may impact the number of debriefings you and your team may have during a crisis. However, once the dust has cleared and the crisis no longer poses a threat to your order or flourishing, you will want to conduct one more debriefing session.

In this debriefing session, explore what you learned about yourself, your team and your organization during the crisis. The goal of this exercise is meant to improve the EQ of the leaders, team and organization.

Ask the following questions during this debrief:

• What did I learn about myself as a person?
• What did I learn about my leadership?
• What action steps am I going to take to improve my leadership?
• What did we learn about our team?
• Are there any areas our team needs improvement?
• What did we learn about our constituents? Congregants? Clients?
• What changes do we need to pursue to better equip ourselves for a future crisis?
• How has this crisis shaped—or how does it need to shape—the future of our mission and vision as an organization?

In closing, crisis leadership is all about learning and leading.

At the beginning of a crisis, you devote yourself to learning about the uncharted territory of the crisis. In other words, you seek to understand how the crisis threatens the order and flourishing to your organization’s mission and vision. In learning the threats, you seek to lead your team and organization through the crisis by minimizing or eliminating the threat the crisis poses.

At the end of the crisis, you discern what you learned about yourself, your team and your organization so that you can be better equipped to lead further into the future where more crises are sure to arise.

However, as you learn and lead in and after crises, know there is coming a day when crisis leadership will not be needed. We believe there is coming a day when our King will make all things new. He will bring all chaos to order and will eliminate all threats to flourishing—and crises will be no more. Maranatha.

Therefore, leader, do not grow weary in the good work of crisis leadership as we lead between the already but not yet kingdom of God.

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Josh Laxton
Josh Laxton

Josh Laxton is the assistant director of the Billy Graham Center and assistant director of Lausanne North America at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.