We have had the opportunity of collaborating with the Hasselt University since 2018. While our shared efforts are aimed at preparing the entire crisis organisation for crisis, we are especially proud of the significant progress made by the crisis communications team. In an effort to figure out what enables their team do do such good work, we chatted with the marketing communications manager (Koen Santermans) and the spokesperson (Thomas Vandenreyt), both pivotal roles in the team. Discover what 5 factors they identified to be crucial for their performance as a crisis communications team.

Being a solid team in routine mode

Even though Koen and Thomas recognise that newly established teams can perform on a high level too, both of them think that their strong bond as a communications department in daily routine helps them collaborate under pressure. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses beforehand is a huge benefit as team members can immediately be assigned a role that’s well-suited to their personality and capabilities.

Having a common purpose

Everybody that followed a training or exercise guided by PM knows that crisis communications does not happen in a vacuum. Instead, communications as a discipline is part of integrated crisis management. Koen and Thomas are well aware of the fact that their performance as a team is directly linked to the degree of involvement by the operational crisis teams and the strategic crisis management team. They recall an incident years ago that led to a journalist roaming the corridors of the university while the communications department was totally unaware of the situation. “Because we all realise now that communications is so crucial, and we all have the same common purpose [avoid being caught off guard], we know our work as a team is much appreciated, not only outside the organisation but also within the university.”

Acting autonomously within the team

Both Koen and Thomas talk about every team member being confident enough with their roles and tasks for them to work autonomously. And because of that, the team functions efficiently, which leads to more autonomy and freedom ‘granted’ by the crisis management team. Win win! At PM we agree that autonomy is a major indicator for high-performing teams, within set limits of course. It is highly desirable for teams to be able to work autonomously, according to agreed upon principles and values. Also it ties in nicely with the common purpose. We often talk about clear purpose and meaningful boundaries, which is what Koen and Thomas clearly allude to.

Going through the learning process together

We can clearly recall the first crisis communications training at UHasselt years ago. The faces we saw that day are still the people that partake in all crisis preparedness activities. Experiencing this trajectory together made sure the entire team is on the same page. Additionally, they all speak the same language now. IBOBBO, FAN, perception analysis have become shared lingo. Speaking the same language and using the same methodologies takes away a lot of stress during crisis!

Tackling something new as a team

The thing that struck us most during our conversation was Koen and Thomas saying that they found it exciting and motivating to discover a whole new domain together. “We know each other so well but we didn’t know enough about crisis communications”, they said. “Being able to experience this together has been very motivating.” And indeed, as trainers it is remarkable how the team approached this new challenge and embraced a healthy level of competitiveness amongst each other. Each exercise is a new opportunity for them to do better and it shows!

We’d like to thank Koen and Thomas for sharing their thoughts with us, and it goes without saying we’re very much looking forward to the next exercises and trainings.