The Undivided Life Blog


It was raining inside the house...

communication company culture leadership personal development undivided life Jun 03, 2024
Man with chainsaw cutting a tree that fell

It Takes a Strong Team to Weather the Storms

The lights flickered in the house as I was gearing up for a great Tuesday start to the week after Memorial Day. My wife, kids, and visiting niece were all still asleep, and I predicted that we would lose power soon, so I rushed to grab flashlights and candles. As I stepped into the living room, I got my first glance at the backyard and realized that we were in for something worse than just a power outage.

“Hurricane-force wind” was a term I had never used before last week, but that is precisely what I was witnessing. The entire backyard looked like it had been tilted 90 degrees, as tree limbs, outdoor furniture, and debris flew past the windows from right to left in what would later be reported as winds exceeding 80 miles per hour.  Then it happened.

The power went out, and I heard a loud pop upstairs. With a flashlight in hand, I bounded up the stairs, unsure of what I would find. As I turned the corner at the top of the stairs, I felt the rain and wind on my face and saw leaves on the ground. My skylight was missing, and I couldn’t determine what else might be going on, but I realized I had precious moments to get my niece and my almost two-year-old daughter downstairs to safety. 

Back downstairs, I woke my wife, and we went into emergency protocol as we had planned when we first moved into the new house a few months ago. She ushered the big kids to the laundry room, my niece assisting, as I grabbed the baby and rushed to join them.  Large trees fell in the backyard, and branches were snapping all around the house, but we had no idea because all we could hear was the roar of the wind as if a train was coming straight through the house.

When the wind finally settled, we were able to exhale. We were all grateful for our safety as we began to assess the damage. The upstairs was turning into a giant puddle, and the rain continued to fall through the open hole that used to be a skylight. The backyard was covered in tree limbs and debris. Within a few hours, we had a generator running to power our refrigerator, some box fans, a few lights, and the coffee maker.

We remained without power for the next 60 hours but that didn’t slow down the demands of family life. We still needed to get the kids to school and end-of-the-year celebrations while my wife took our three-year-old to his daily proton radiation treatments. We not only kept it all together, but we continued to thrive as a family thanks to proactive planning, effective communication, and our shared commitment to excellence as a family unit.

As I reflected on last week's events and my family’s story, I was reminded of the business storms I’ve experienced over the past 25 years. In some situations, we were caught flat-footed and scrambled to save whatever was left. In others, we entered the unexpected with a shared sense of purpose and clarity in our roles and responsibilities that turned potential tragedy into triumph.

Lack of Prep Leads to More Missteps

I have many examples of business storms that went from bad to worse because of our lack of prep, but two jumped out immediately as I sat down to write this.

The first happened when I launched my second nonprofit, Closing Time, during my senior year at Texas A&M. This organization was designed to replicate the impact that CARPOOL had on reducing drunk driving, but instead of serving in a college town, Closing Time was focused on popular spring break destinations.

We had everything set for our initial launch in South Padre Island when the primary funding source went dry overnight. Our benefactor, a Fortune 100 company, had just posted their first quarterly loss in years and programming like ours was cut immediately. We hadn’t contemplated that anything could happen on the financial side as we were too engrossed in the operational and legal risks.

As a 22-year-old, I had to face my failures and inform over 100 part-time employees and dozens of vendors, benefactors, and suppliers that we were shutting the doors on our spring break operations.  Our lack of preparedness left us with no wind in our sails and almost no time to get the momentum going again.  It is no fun making countless calls and holding large group meetings to announce the end of something special.

The second example comes from the energy industry. The hurricane season of 2008 was one of the worst on record. In addition to the death and carnage these storms caused, the energy markets were also flipped upside down, causing daily financial losses.  Without going into detail on all the unpredictable elements that made running a power company difficult at the time, I can say that our team was not well-aligned and that we didn’t have an established pathway for clear and effective communication.

As a result, we spent 2-3 times longer in meetings than necessary while our teammates, clients, vendors, and suppliers waited for updates, instructions, and a strategy for the future. The lack of proactive culture building prior to the business storm we were facing caused more pain than necessary and we dug ourselves into a pretty deep hole. No one on that team can be blamed for the weather or for the black swan events of an energy market where prices spiked in some regions and went negative in others, but we all share in the responsibility for establishing protocols, planning for contingencies, building a shared expectation of excellence, and strengthening all lines of communication long BEFORE the storms come.

Expect the Unexpected

Contrast those two business stories with the way in which my previous team at 5 handled the global shutdown in 2020. In the months leading up to the work-from-home mandates, we played out various scenarios of what might happen and had the necessary technology, backups, communication tools, and defined roles and responsibilities. When those items were matched with the company’s overall thriving culture with a shared vision of success, 5 was able to turn a global business storm into an opportunity for increased impact and service to clients, vendors, and suppliers. Thanks to those elements, the internal team grew stronger as well and I believe that preparedness and response are directly related to 5’s continued growth trajectory even today.

Do you want to create a company culture that is proactive and highly effective with communication and relationship building before the next storm? Consider an investment in one of the tools offered by Undivided Life including our series of online leadership development courses called Culture Foundations or our customized Inner Circle coaching cohorts for up to 20 of your team members.   

The storms are coming - - in life and in business - - be prepared.

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