The Learning Cafe

How to talk to your team after a crisis

  • Posted by Elysia Arnold
  • On March 20, 2019

When an event as catastrophic as the recent Christchurch terrorism attack on March 15th occurs, we are all impacted. The people in your workplace will be feeling a range of emotions. You can help simply by using a process that will enable them to talk about how they feel and find ideas for ways the team can help each other and those impacted in Christchurch.

We thought we would share our process and how we used this at The Learning Wave, in the hopes that it will help you and other leaders around the country facilitate supportive conversation with your teams.

The process helps you to…

  • Engage your team in conversation around the events in Christchurch in a productive and safe way
  • Help people cope with any emotional impact from the events in Christchurch
  • Engage with your team and provide ideas on how people can help others within your workplace
  • Empower your team with ideas on how they can help the wider community
  • Provide the team with some practical tools which they may need going forward
  • Generate ideas on what your business can do to respond

It only takes about 30 minutes…

We recommend setting aside around 30 minutes for the session.  Let your teams know that this session is optional and explain that you empathise that some people might not want to discuss what has happened, and that that is OK.

Utilise resources in the office.

Practical tools such as flip charts, post-it notes, pens, and space on a wall to put up ideas can be a helpful way to encourage your team members to participate. In our discussion, we wrote up an agenda and had space on two A2 sheets of paper titled: “Ways we can help”, and “Question board”. Coffee, tea, and water can also help everyone to feel more comfortable and relaxed for the conversation.

Start the conversation.  (allow about 2 minutes)

Open the session with reinforcing that it is ok to feel impacted. Advise your teams that this impact will be different for different people.

A good example opening could be: “The events we saw in Christchurch recently have taken a toll on all of us. Some more than others, and it is hard to predict or reason with why and how these events impact us the way they do. You may know people involved, you may have a connection to Christchurch, you may simply be totally confused as to how this could happen in NZ or you may have another connection. Your reaction would likely come in many shapes and forms – concern, confusion, anger, sorrow, loss, shame etc. Whatever the impact, or your reaction, the one thing we know is that talking about it with others is helpful. Please note, for some they may not want to talk about it, and that is also fine.”

Make sure that at this point, you reintroduce the option for people to opt out or to not engage with the session.

Address the impact. (allow 1-2 minutes)

Ask: “what has been the impact?” The key message behind this is to acknowledge that people around us may be more, or less impacted than us, but we probably all know people who are dealing with a fair bit.

An example to start this part of the conversation could be: “In terms of the impact directly related to us, this is what we know….”

Tell your own story about the direct impact that you have seen in those people around you and your organisation (employees, clients, community). At The Learning Wave, we work with companies and clients all over the country, so in our session, we addressed those affected and acknowledged what they might be dealing with.

Ask open questions. (allow approx. 3 mins)

Begin a round of asking open questions about the event. Having a collection of good questions enables us to engage with other people in a constructive conversation.

In groups of 4-8 (depending on the size of your team), ask the groups to come up with some open questions (what, why, how, when, where) that would be good conversation starters. Give the team 1-2 mins to brainstorm and ask them to write each open question onto a separate post-it note.

A good example of an open question that one of our groups started with was: “where were you when you heard about the Christchurch events on Friday 15th March?”

At the end of this discussion, ask for a volunteer from each group to read the questions their group came up with and bring the post-it notes up and stick onto the “Question board” flip chart.

Time to discuss. (allow approx. 5-10 mins)

Talking about how things have impacted us is a helpful way of working through the grief process.

In the same groups, ask everyone to pick any one of the questions that were put on the “Question board” and start to have a conversation in their groups using that as a starting point. The conversation will likely morph from the original question, but that is fine, the purpose of the original question is just to start the conversation. If you notice that some groups stall while others are still active, ask them to pick another question.

Explore some practical tools. (allow approx. 5 mins)

Giving people clarity on what they should do in a range of crisis scenarios will help people to feel more equipped in case any events were to come closer to home.

At this point, ask your team if anyone has been in lock down or in an evacuation situation before. If so, ask them if would like to share some of their learnings to the wider group.

After this, explore what would happen in a lock down or evacuation scenario within your workplace. Discuss with everyone whether the company has any standard procedures or drills in the case of an emergency or a crisis. This type of information will be helpful for everyone to have a copy of or access to.

In our session, we discussed and worked out a plan of action of what to do in a lock down scenario. We also agreed upon a place to meet in case of an evacuation. These steps have been written on some flip chart paper which is hanging on our walls to remind us all in case we need it.

Ways we can help. (allow approx. 5-8 mins)

Before wrapping up, spend some time generating ideas together on ways you can help each other, and ideas for how you could support the people or communities who are directly affected by the crisis. This will finish off the session in a positive and proactive way.

In groups, brainstorm some ideas on what we can do either as individuals, as a team or as an organisation in response to crisis scenarios. You can ask the group to write each of their ideas onto a separate post-it note so that these can be collated on the wall.

Ask for a volunteer from each group to share their ideas and bring their post it notes up and stick onto the ‘Helpful ideas’ flip chat.

At The Learning Wave, we collated ideas on how we could support the victims and the community of the Christchurch terrorism attack. We decided to pick 1 or 2 of the quick wins from the list we generated and agreed to act on them.

If you are not able to make a decision or act by this point, then reassure the team you will review that list and come back with a plan.

Wrap up (allow approx. 1-2 mins)

At the end of the session, it is important to thank everyone for participating and for sharing their ideas. Make sure you provide guidance on what you will be doing with the ideas that were shared. Finally, remind the team that it’s normal to feel emotions after such a crisis and to keep using open questions and continue to support each other.

Helpful Resources:

For the full Session plan click here: