Pre-2020, it seemed that a zombie apocalypse was pretty unlikely. After raging wildfires (remember when we thought that was the big story of the year?!), a global pandemic and a currently rather confused state of lockdown, it’s probably wise not to rule anything out.

Zombies might not be your business’ main worry, but how prepared are you for future crises, whatever shape they might take? Many people will say that we couldn’t possibly have anticipated the coronavirus outbreak – and to a large extent, they’re right – but you don’t need to know what “unprecedented” cinematic circumstances are coming to make sure your business is able to handle them. The key to managing, and recovering from, any crisis is having the right people in the right positions to utilise the wide variety of skills that will be needed during difficult times.

Just 12% of businesses consider themselves to be well prepared for the covid-19 crisis, which means there are going to be an awful lot of people doing impressions of headless chickens right now. If your business only has one type of person steering the ship, it will be incredibly difficult to work out how to change course when you suddenly spot an iceberg ahead.

Empowering your teams

To adapt and innovate during times of crisis, you need a variety of different ideas and different ways of thinking. Having diverse teams, and diverse leaders, means more opportunities to look at problems in different ways and come up with new solutions. Research shows that diverse teams are also more likely, and quicker, to understand issues in the first place, and therefore also more effective and faster at responding.

Not only are diverse teams better equipped to find a way out of a crisis, but they are more likely to spot one approaching, as varied points of view allow for greater awareness of more varied potential issues. Listening to concerns from across a diverse team gives you more chance to being able to avoid a crisis in the first place, or at least be able to plan for its approach.

Being fully aware of the diverse needs across your organisation is also vitally important to allow your team to contribute the most and best they can. If members of your staff have particular access needs, childcare demands, mental or physical health needs, or other requirements brought about or impacted by the kind of sudden change in working approach that we’re currently seeing, you need to make sure you are able to accommodate them. Failing to do so risks reducing productivity and efficiency, as well as your team becoming disengaged and demotivated.

Building resilience

Research demonstrates that diversity helps businesses to develop organisational resilience, making them better equipped to anticipate, navigate and recover from problems. Stephanie Duchek, Sebastian Raetze and Ianina Scheuch state that there are three main areas where diversity positively impacts organisational resilience:

  1. Anticipation capabilities
    • Diverse groups are more able to observe and identify changes and potentially threatening developments , as well as having greater predictive abilities.
    • Diversity improves an organisation’s ability to prepare for the unexpected, increases anticipatory innovation and drives creativity.
  2. Coping capabilities
    • Different perspectives make teams more effective at making sense of a crisis and interpret developments.
    • Crises often require new thinking and cannot be solved with established methods – diverse teams are better at innovative problem-solving and creating thinking. Diversity also provides a greater breadth of knowledge and experiences, which are incredibly valuable in effective problem-solving.
  3. Adaptation capabilities
    • Differing viewpoints stimulate reflection within teams and help organisations to better understand what went right or wrong.
    • Diversity in perspectives forces organisations to look more deeply at issues and to learn more effectively from a crisis.

It is also worth noting that, in businesses where inclusion is not fostered as part of the organisational culture, all three areas could be negatively impacted. Good communication between all members of a team and a willingness to collaborate and share openly with one another is vital for organisational resilience and dealing with problems.

The right people in the right places

It takes a variety of skills to get through a crisis. There are many different roles to fulfil, as we can see from the zombie example. We can’t all charge heroically into battle to fight the zombies – we could end up with everyone getting bitten, or getting so exhausted that they’re unable to fight anymore and get overwhelmed by a hoard. (Yes I have been watching The Walking Dead, what of it?) Someone needs to fight, someone needs to stand guard, someone needs to build shelter, someone needs to provide food, someone will need to care for vulnerable or injured members of the community, and someone will need to keep everyone’s spirits and energy up. People will need to take shifts so that they get time to rest and recharge. There will need to be short-term and long-term plans, goals and coordination. This will all need to be agreed and communicated effectively.

The apocalypse is a busy time.

In our zombie attack workshops (oh yes, they’re a real thing) we look at the different roles that are required in a crisis – often some of the most vital elements are initially overlooked. It’s only when we drill deeper that we realise what will be required, beneath the blustering surface of the moody hero with a crossbow, for more sustainable management and recovery, and how varied that is.

To be prepared for whatever life might throw at you (please don’t say that 2021 can’t get any worse, it might be listening), you need to have a wide variety of skills, a wide variety or perspectives, and a wide variety of human beings who are being given everything they need to best contribute their unique abilities and experiences to the organisation.

One of them better know how to hotwire a car.