July 20, 2018

The world was captivated by the rescue of the boys’ soccer team in Thailand. Against all reasonable odds, search and rescue teams were able to locate the 13 missing, provide them with life-saving oxygen, food and water, and then devise and execute a plan to escort each of them out of the cave system.

The rescue had many elements working against it: poor weather, no visibility, flooded passageways. Add to these multiple nationalities, with varied languages and standards of operation, who were aiding the rescue, as well as the overwhelming emotion involved. It makes you wonder how they succeeded when organizational leadership fails at crisis management all the time.

Here are a few lessons we can learn from their success:

The Outcome Outranks the Ego

SEALs from several countries contributed to the rescue. They are the ultimate experts in teamwork and underwater search and rescue, and in this case, their expertise equaled success. Despite different backgrounds, perhaps contradictory training, language barriers, and likely very different perspectives and opinions, they were laser-focused on the task at hand. There was no margin of error to allow for egos or other irrelevant distractions. This is teamwork at its optimal best. What are the dynamics among your team? Whose ego is getting in the way?

Have a Plan, but be Agile

Rescuers were strategic in planning the effort down to the precise moment of execution. They planned for wait-times to allow both the rescued and rescuers to recover; they anticipated changes in weather and conditions in the cave; they provided the exact amount of support that would be helpful but not draining to resources; they set up safeguards along the way. And yet, when the weather forecast changed, they were prepared to adjust their timing for a better chance of success. Do you have a current crisis plan in place? Have you considered multiple scenarios?

Focused Leadership

While accepting help from many other resources, the Thai Navy retained the leadership role throughout the effort. Too often, crisis management crumbles under the old adage about “too many cooks,” or turf wars.  There must clear leadership, someone or a small team at the top managing the intake of information from multiple sources, making informed decisions based on facts, and communicating with the greater team or audience at large. Who is your designated leadership team in a crisis? Do they have the necessary resources to make good decisions?

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

As the world watched, Thai government leaders delivered press conferences and provided regular updates. They knew people were watching and waiting for news; a void would have created panic. Their communications managed expectations, and did not allow for false hope. They were clear about the risk and the potential for failure. And when the rescues – in stages – were successful, they provided immediate updates on the progress, and what to expect next and when.  Do you know who your audiences are? And do you know what they need to know?