3 Steps for Preparing for the Unexpected

When working with cyclists you are thrown a lot of curve balls. Racing is unpredictable and so are people. Regardless of how much you prepare, things can, and do, happen that are out of the ordinary. During our recent summer race season we had our fair share of crashes, illness and injuries. One of our riders had her bike stolen two days before a race. But the show must go on. While a lot of the time things looks cool calm and collected from the outside, there is a flurry of activity taking place to get things back on track.

The same is true in a corporate environment. It is here that we also see a lot of unexpected events: timelines move forward (or back), meetings run long, equipment fails, people get stuck in traffic jams. Unlike running a cycling team, where we expect the unexpected, these events seem to have a larger impact. They come as more of a surprise.

So what are the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected? Here are three lessons learned from managing people in the sporting field, which are just as relevant to managing people in any other workplace.

1. Talk it out

As we discussed in our last article, the guiding principle of the #RoxsoltLadies race team is have fun and communicate.

The communicate part isn’t just about social chit chat. We structure a lot of our communication to identify potential issues, conflicts or events. This enables us to have a workaround that has already been discussed.

When hit with a stressful surprise, thinking isn’t always as clear as we’d like it to be. Because we have talked through possible responses in the past, this makes a response under pressure much calmer, and more familiar.

The #RoxsoltLadies will have a number of discussions about an upcoming race as they develop a cohesive plan for the day. Initially, these are one-on-one conversations between staff and staff, between riders and staff, and riders and riders.

We also have two team meetings involving all staff and riders to make sure everyone is on the same page. The first is a longer more comprehensive meeting the evening before the race. The second is a quicker discussion, reiterating key points and solving any last minute issues. This one takes place about an hour before the racing begins.

We look at various scenarios that may surface, such as delays and crashes. We discuss the roles and responsibilities of each team member during those events, and a plan of action if one of these scenarios takes place.

This translates well to the corporate environment. By discussing unexpected events, activities and outcomes, teams can make plans and make these situations feel familiar rather than stressful or strange.

It’s important to note that just because you are discussing what could happen, this does not mean you think it will happen. You are simply helping everyone understand what actions, outcomes and responsibilities may be implemented – just in case.

2. Call ahead

Once you have started to think through some of the different scenarios that may eventuate, and what some potential reactions may be, the next step is to be proactive in the response. Don’t wait until you have an unexpected event to reach out to those who you may require assistance from.

For the #RoxsoltLadies, the most disruptive events are mechanical issues with the bikes, or health issues for the riders. When traveling for multi-day races we plan ahead by identifying, and making contact with, those who may be able to help; a bike shop or manufacturer, doctors and physios.

As we race a lot during the summer holiday period, this impacts who is and isn’t available to help. By finding out these things in advance, it reduces the time spent seeking this information when we need it the most. We do the same for simple items as well. Knowing the opening hours of shops and petrol station locations, for example, allows us to keep our focus on the task at hand.

In the corporate environment it's important to consider who – within an organisation and outside of it – is the best to assist with the unexpected diversions or delays. Don’t wait until you have an critical event to introduce yourself and find out how to engage with these resources.

Consider what the most high impact events may be, think about who can best help, and reach out early. If you need to call on them in a panic, you’ll both be glad of the benefits that come from making contact in advance.

3. Make it routine

There is a tendency to ignore the unexpected in business. We don’t like the things that are out of our control and we prefer to focus on good news than bad. This behaviour can magnify the negative outcomes of an adverse event and can limit an effective response. Encourage a glass half empty mindset within the team during the planning phase to call out potentially disruptive events.

With the #RoxsoltLadies we have a strong routine. Key information, such as critical contact details, are written down. Standard operating procedures are written up and shared. We even share a packing list with riders and staff prior to travel. This allows us to make sure that everyone knows what to bring and what is being provided.

Run sheets are provided in advance to act as a guide of what to expect and we communicate key expectations for each race. Even though we are working with professional athletes, we provide a media briefing to everyone for each race. Once again, this ensures that we are on the same page.

As discussed above, staff conduct a briefing on who is doing what before the beginning of each race. If there is a crash, what do we do? A mechanical, what happens next? We carry items that are commonly broken  with us, we take spare clothing, helmets, shoes, wheels…for some races we bring a spare bike.

The key thing to remember is that the more you work through the unexpected, the more routine these actions become. Problem solving becomes normal, response times are shortened, focus is maintained.

For the corporate environment, it’s important to ensure that response plans are discussed frequently. There is little point taking the time to discuss the unexpected if you store it on the shelf for 12 months, forget about it, and get caught unprepared and off-guard.

Look to integrate discussion about potential events, disruptions and conflicts in team meetings. Ensure that responses remain suitable and build in group cohesion and routine. Encourage team members to call out areas that may have gaps and, most importantly, conduct a review of events to identify changes that can be made for future.

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Talk it out, call ahead and make it routine. It’s when we expect the unexpected, that people really start to excel as a team.