[2 minute read ]
Crisis is not a word with many positive associations.
“Oh, he’s in crisis again,” we might say of our drama-queen friend.
“The government is facing a crisis of confidence,” we note as the latest in a growing litter of corruption scandals squirms, stinking, into the light of day.
“She’s taken six months off to travel through India. It’s a midlife crisis, and career suicide,” we hear someone mutter to a colleague in an airport lounge.
“They say it’s loadshedding, but really, Eskom is so deep in crisis that all they can do is tread water and pretend to be working on it,” says your chatty neighbour, far too early in the day.
“We’re in financial crisis!” — words that send shivers down the spine of leaders, managers, employees and board members everywhere.
So, what is crisis?
It’s when a system (person, organisation, community, government) comes to the edge of disintegration. An edge which can also present a new set of possibilities and a new phase of development.
In organisations and teams, the signs of crisis might be:
- a severe drop in income
- donor withdrawal
- unusually high staff turnover or attrition
- the failure of core systems
- serious conflict and communications breakdown
- an interruption in the core process
- it looks like business as usual on the surface, except for small recurring issues — minor conflicts, missed deadlines, souring client relations
- but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a slow boil of unspoken conflict, disconnection, disrespect, and unresolved tensions
Sometimes it takes an explosion or an implosion — the collapse of the old — for something new to emerge. However, if we know how to work with it, the journey through crisis can lead to rebirth, metamorphosis, deeper consciousness and wider capacity. You almost certainly know someone who has been through trauma or disease and come out the other side a richer, more powerful version of themselves. The same is possible for other kinds of systems, including organisations.
In a nutshell: crisis is associated with pain, but also with transformation. This is the magic behind all initiation rituals — they create a structured opportunity to transform the self, through the fire of crisis/extremis, and move from one phase of life to another (girl to woman; boy to man; aspirant to shaman; apprentice to master).
It is possible to make a current crisis the pathway to a new plane of functioning – in other words, a road to development.
Part 2 of this article offers a few first steps in recognising and responding to possible organisational crises.