Industry Insights

McChrystal Group Industry Insights: Emergency Management

McChrystal Group data show emergency management teams generally outperform other government sectors in organizational behaviors. However, data show emergency managers struggle to drive a shared understanding of the operating environment and share information effectively across teams. McChrystal Group partnered with a state responding to a crisis by supporting the development of a regular communication forum to facilitate information sharing.

In the latest installment of our ongoing Industry Insights series, a persistent challenge the emergency management landscape is facing comes into focus. A major pain point for emergency managers has been achieving a shared understanding of the operating environment among the various teams that make up the organization, particularly in a crisis.

Notably, respondents outside the government sector are roughly 4.5 times more likely than those in emergency management to agree that other teams within their organization articulate how their actions impact their own team, according to data from McChrystal Group. As a result, perceptions of situational awareness are low as organizations in the emergency management space struggle to share pertinent information that is critical to the mission’s success across teams.

Drawn from field interviews and survey responses from thousands of workers from more than a hundred organizations across several industries, McChrystal Group’s database collected over the last decade presents a framework to underscore actionable insights, allowing leaders to engage their teams with intention and precision.

Why It Matters

The concept of situation awareness is ubiquitous in emergency management as teams respond to evolving crises and disasters. Obtaining the newest information and awareness of the operating environment has become a major challenge given the seemingly constant stream of crises and the fact many organizations are still operating in a hybrid work environment.

McChrystal Group data show that employees who routinely receive updates on the status of organizational objectives are 38% more engaged than employees who do not.

Additionally, employees who reported they “usually” or “always” receive valuable information from the meetings they attend are roughly 2.5 times more likely to agree that they feel motivated to excel at their jobs when they think about the 5-year future of their organization.

In a thought leadership workshop that McChrystal Group conducted with a group of emergency managers, leaders from the field discussed the current challenges to land everyone on the same page, and they agreed that concrete steps need to be taken to strengthen the sharing of the operating reality with different stakeholders on a regular basis:

  • The difference in time horizons between academics, operators, and policymakers requires a strategic, trusted, long-term convenor to identify and publicize the issues needed to professionalize and strengthen the field of emergency management.
  • There is an appetite to create a recurring rhythm to research, discussion and debate, and then spur action on key issues in emergency management, including top lessons, issues, policy/budget needs, research needs, and macro/micro trends in the field.
  • There is real value and opportunity in consistently sharing agendas and ideas with local and state officials, creating partnerships with local partners, and leveraging existing infrastructure to build capacity for the next crisis and drive lessons learned at larger scales.

How We've Worked With Clients to Address These Challenges

Information flow is most critical during times of crisis, but the fundamentals that underpin effective information sharing are built in periods of relative calm. And while information-sharing often increases during the early throes of crisis, it usually remains inefficient.

Key stakeholders lacked a “single source of truth” for crucial information, and some stakeholders had simultaneously too much of the “wrong” information and not enough of the “right” information. Across the organization, team members had several meetings on their calendars, but these were organized around subsets of stakeholders and/or specific topic areas and did not provide context relevant to the group as a whole.

McChrystal Group partnered with a state and its emergency management teams as it responded to a crisis to ensure all key players were on the same page and could share information across teams and throughout the organization by establishing a communication forum.

By working directly with stakeholders to identify areas of focus and priorities, then establishing a bi-weekly, cross-functional, intelligence-sharing forum, the emergency managers tasked with the crisis response were able to have a structure that facilitated information exchanges to provide context and explain the consequences of decisions. This allowed participants to find ways to remove roadblocks, leverage successes, and identify opportunities to connect offline to pursue shared goals.

As a result, the team was better able to coordinate its crisis response, allowing stakeholders to eliminate multiple meetings, and in turn, reclaiming the time to focus on the task at hand. Structuring and openly sharing information, along with greater transparency on decision-making and follow-through, dramatically bolstered trust and interoperability across the dynamic and layered organization.

The organization was then also able to pivot the function this structure served to later adapt not only to the crisis but also to embrace a broader range of preparedness to be ready to face future challenges.

This is the latest in a multi-part series of industry insights utilizing McChrystal Group’s proprietary data to highlight industry specific insights and strategies leaders can adopt to address them.

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