Caution: B Team Sports Analogy Ahead

Full Disclosure: Most of us (OK, all of us) here at Emergency Preparedness Partnerships are Phillies fans. Thought we had it made for the World Series this year. Proven, experienced lineup. Great hitters, Gold Gloves. Got the best pitcher in baseball in the off-season and traded for another ace at the deadline. A Right Fielder having a career year. A manager who won the All Star game, giving us home field advantage throughout. We were a lead pipe cinch to take it all.

Then the B team as well as some bad weather blew in from the West Coast. A kid behind the plate, a freak on the mound, two castoff outfielders off the waiver wire, relievers who dye their beards, a guy who runs head first into fences just for fun, a Frenchman for a manager and a Kung Fu Panda at third. Who in their right mind puts a team like this together and expects to win the National League?

So what’s the point? Well, sometimes the B Team is¬†better than you think. You just have to give them a chance.

You don’t need us to tell you that managing during an emergency is a challenge. There are multiple roles to fill at any given time, and usually not enough people to fill them (or so it seems). Even in companies that have multiple teams, there is always one team that stands out as the ‘go-to’ team to handle the really big ones, the high-profile events that garner all the attention. The Second String, not so much.

Most sports teams understand the importance of bench strength. Their managers are expert at identifying the talent, developing the skills of the players and managing the movement of players throughout the system. They understand that a game is not won or lost on the basis of one individual in one role, there needs to be a depth of talent. The Giants’ Bochy took some risks and gave his backups a chance to play. For the most part, the Phil’s Manager stayed with the first string.

So why is it that we don’t all follow the Giants’ model? Why do we rely so heavily on so few key individuals? Is it a control issue, fear that no one else has the skill sets? Angst that there really is no one else? If you want a job done right, ya gotta do it yourself?

Well, for one thing, Restoration is not a full time job. Mobilizing a team of individuals to deal with an emergency doesn’t happen that often (if you’re lucky). So naturally, we don’t spend a lot of time and energy worrying about putting together and fielding the B Team.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves.
-Thomas Alva Edison

Consider the following thoughts for building better backups and you may not have to worry about cancelling that family vacation next time:

Figure Out What You Need: Identify all the roles and second roles that need to add depth in the storm or emergency organization and determine how many resources you should have, especially for longer term outages. One person per role is not enough – ten is probably too many. Identify the skill sets required to do the job – both from a competency point of view and a motivational standpoint. Do they have the heart and enthusiasm for the job?

Identify Where They Will They Come From: Sometimes the best person for the job doesn’t come from a traditional source. Sometimes the best Incident Commanders do not come from senior leadership (we know, blasphemy). Look around the organization and identify those employees with an interest and passion for the tasks you are asking them to do. Not everyone thrives in a high stress environment where decisions need to be made quickly and decisively, sometimes with minimal information. Some do.

Develop People and Let Them Play: Most people do well at an assignment because the cumulative set of experiences they’ve had along the way prepares them well. The same is true of personnel that you decide to bring along to build your bench strength. Provide them with the experiences that will help them learn. Develop these employees to be ready for advancement into key roles – primarily through the right set of experiences. Let them work alongside someone with more seasoning. Give them a chance to fly on their own and make a few mistakes along the way. No one will ever do well if they don’t have the opportunity to get in the game.

This process won’t happen by mistake, or on an ad-hoc basis. You need to purposefully set out to build your bench. Clear objectives are critical to establishing effective bench strength in your emergency organization.

  • Identify those with the potential to assume the position responsibilities
  • Provide development experiences to those employees
  • Engage the leadership in supporting their development

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.
– Johann von Goethe

…Doesn’t matter if it’s the B team or not.

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