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Running Effective Emergency Meetings: A Best Practices Guide

Uh oh. Something big just happened at your company and you need to gather the team for an emergency meeting, stat. Maybe your top competitor just released a game-changing new product. Or your CTO discovered a major security vulnerability. Or half your engineering team just gave notice.

Whatever the crisis, emergency meetings require a different approach than your regularly scheduled standups. Lives could be on the line. Fortunes hang in the balance. You need to get everyone on the same page and fast.

Follow these best practices to run an ultra-productive emergency meeting that mobilizes your team to action.

What Constitutes an Emergency Meeting?

Emergency meetings are for hair-on-fire situations that demand immediate attention. They should be rare occurrences. Some scenarios that warrant an emergency meeting:

  • Your company suffers a major security breach that leaks customer data.
  • Your entire website or app goes down.
  • You lose a major client or contract unexpectedly.
  • A key team member unexpectedly resigns, taking crucial knowledge with them.
  • A major regulatory change requires you to overhaul processes quickly.
  • A big market opportunity opens up but requires fast action to capitalize on it.

The common thread is that something happened that throws your normal operations into upheaval. Regular meetings won’t cut it. You need all hands on deck immediately to respond. Emergency meetings are for crises and time-sensitive opportunities only. Don't cry wolf too often or you’ll burn out your team.

Who Should Call an Emergency Meeting?

Typically, an emergency meeting needs to be called by a senior leader with the authority to mobilize resources. This may be the CEO, COO, CTO, or other C-suite executives.

However, managers and team leads can also call emergency meetings if the crisis affects only their domain. For example, if a key server goes down, the CTO could call an emergency meeting of the ops team to address it.

Whoever calls the meeting should have the seniority, experience, and leadership skills to steer the team through choppy waters. They set the tone and agenda.

How to Run an Effective Emergency Meeting

Emergency meetings need structure and direction to prevent descending into panicked chaos. Follow these best practices to lead an emergency meeting that gets results:

1. Set a Clear, Urgent Tone Upfront

Don’t beat around the bush. As the meeting organizer, kick things off by concisely stating the purpose of the meeting and why it requires immediate attention.

Set the tone that this is urgent and all normal work is suspended until the emergency is addressed. Rally the troops to action stations.

2. Assign a Separate Note Taker

In an emergency meeting, the organizer has enough on their plate without worrying about taking notes.

You could appoint someone to solely focus on documenting the discussion, action items, and decisions made or you could utilize AI to handle the notes. Supernormal’s real-time meeting assistant can take notes for you, freeing up staff to participate and ensuring meeting notes are comprehensive, objective, and accurate.

3. Outline the Situation

Give attendees the basic facts about what happened and why it’s an emergency. But keep it high-level for now.

There will be time later to sort out granular details and assign specific fixes. Right now you need everyone on the same page.

4. Facilitate Initial Reactions and Questions

After the basic situation is outlined, give attendees a chance to react and ask clarifying questions.

Let people digest the news and voice their initial thoughts before jumping into problem solving mode. Otherwise they may fixate on questions rather than solutions.

5. Brainstorm Solutions and Action Items

Okay, time to put our heads together and start stabilizing this aircraft. Collaboratively brainstorm what potential solutions and actions could help resolve the situation.

Designate someone to capture all ideas without judgment. We'll prioritize and refine later. Right now we need options.

6. Assign Owners and Deadlines

Now go through the brainstormed actions and assign owners and deadlines to the ones you'll pursue.

Focus on the vital few that will have maximum impact so efforts aren't diluted. Capture any discarded actions in case they become relevant later.

7. Agree on Next Steps and Accountability

Confirm the path forward and schedule any follow-up meetings needed to track progress. Emphasize that owners are accountable for completed their assigned actions by the deadlines.

No dropping the ball or waiting for others. Every person needs to execute with urgency and purpose. Lives may depend on it!

8. Offer Encouragement and Rally the Team

This is a stressful situation, but remind everyone that challenges are where we shine. Boost morale by expressing confidence in the team and emphasizing shared purpose.

We'll get through this crisis together by relying on each other's talents and character. Now let's get out there and execute!

Emergency Meeting Follow-Ups

One emergency meeting is rarely sufficient. Additional shorts follow-ups will be needed to ensure the response plan is executed and issues are resolved.

Daily Standups

Schedule 15-30 min daily standups for owners to report progress on assigned actions. Remove obstacles blocking progress.

Standups instill needed urgency and accountability when the pressure of the crisis lessens. Don't let intensity wane before the emergency is over.

Issues-Only Meetings

Hold additional emergency meetings as needed if new issues crop up requiring discussion.

Don't wait for the next standup. Tackle them ASAP while contained.

Post-Mortem Meeting

After the emergency has passed and normal operations resume, conduct a post-mortem meeting to reflect on what went well and what could improve.

Capture lessons learned so your team is even more effective responding to the next crisis. The key is to keep learning and improving.

Best Practices for Emergency Meeting Leaders

Beyond the agenda structure, leaders set the tone and culture that determines a meeting's success. Follow these best practices as an emergency meeting leader:

  • Stay calm. Your team will feed off your emotional state. Exude quiet confidence even if you’re worried inside.
  • Listen attentively. Providing a space for people to feel heard builds psychological safety and enables authentic contribution.
  • Communicate decisively. Speak without ambiguity or hesitation once decisions are made. Give the team clarity and direction amid the chaos.
  • Project optimism. Believe in your team and emphasize shared purpose larger than the crisis. Your hope and positivity will spread.
  • Manage energy. Raise collective energy at the start and close of the meeting. In between, manage ebbs and flows to sustain focus when needed.
  • Watch for fear. Call out unhealthy fear masked as urgency. Convert it to healthy urgency focused on solutions.
  • End strongly. At the close, express faith in the team and highlight progress made. Send everyone out inspired.

With the right leadership, your team will respond to any emergency with their best selves activated. You got this!

Conclusion and Call to Action

Emergencies throw everything into flux but following these best practices will enable your team to respond effectively:

  • Reserve emergency meetings for true crises requiring immediate response.
  • Ensure the organizer has authority to mobilize resources.
  • Outline the situation, facilitate initial reactions, then quickly brainstorm solutions and assign owners.
  • Follow up with standups and issues-only meetings to drive execution.
  • Capture lessons learned in a post-mortem meeting.
  • Lead with calm confidence, decisiveness, and optimism.

Now here is your call to action:

When your next crisis strikes, use these guidelines to lead your team through the fog. Stay laser focused on solutions and believe in your team. You’ll transform the emergency into an opportunity to shine.

To get help with meeting notes for your emergency and follow-on meetings give Supernormal a try at www.supernormal.com. We take notes for you so you and your team can give the emergency your undivided attention. Let us help bear the load so you can lead from your best self and maximize your team's potential. This is our time to rise to the occasion. You got this!

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