Fighting Fires: Task Allocation

April 10, 2017 / Blogs / InfoMart
Fighting Fires: Task Allocation

It’s 2017, and everyone has an opinion on how to manage a task list by now. There are hundreds of apps on cell phones to help individuals manage to-do lists, and subsequently there are almost as many strategies to implement across organizations. However, I’ve noticed a strong lack of representation for the crisis scenario. This could be something as small as a project off schedule or as big as total system failure. How do we tackle the day-to-day when a wrench is thrown into the mix?


  • See the whole board – An article by Navy Seal Thomas Hardy talks about techniques that Seals use in the field, and one of his strategies is to “know your status.” It’s important to take a step back from the situation when a new element arises. The last thing my teams want is an original task to get off track due to the confusion. This fresh look gives you the chance to reorganize your team accordingly. Some people might receive new tasks or pass on others.
  • Actionable language – We know how important communication is to efficiency, but what version of communication? Crisis management organizations like Incident Control Room (ICR) institute workflows that operate under high levels of stress. One way they’ve reported to handle their tasks is with the use of actionable language.

These are declarative statements in place of open ended questions and speculation. For example, a subordinate could approach their superior or vice versa and say, “I’ve finished A, B, and C tasks. My next step would be this. I need this from you, or approval for this to move on.” This transaction of all necessary information and the clear message of what is needed helps cut down the time frame for discussion when one could be working. When confusion is minimized and all knowledge is passed on as it’s known, your team can complete more, faster.

  • Drill – That same article from ICR outlines the need for crisis management teams to run drills regularly. This idea could change the way your team tackles backlogged projects. Every team has ideas they’ve thought of and then placed in the purgatory of “someday.” Instead of interrupting your team with hypothetical scenarios, cycle one of these ideas randomly into the day to have your team members practice reorganizing for unexpected changes. Kill two birds with one stone. Or three birds, if the new tasks offer opportunities for professional development to members of the team.
  • Disposition – I find this is one of the most important aspects of managing unexpected tasks at the last minute. Teams should learn to focus on solving the problem before they give themselves the chance to ruminate on why a problem happened. Tackle the issue before tackling what caused it. This is especially applicable to team leaders. Keep the temperament that helps your team finish all necessary projects. There’s no room for frustration in efficiency.

With large-scale business strategies constantly changing, we sometimes forget to check our smaller methodologies for updates. Productivity should be a goal in all aspects of a company, both big and small. Next time you walk into the office to find a surprise on your task list, you won’t work around the problem because it won’t be a problem.

By: Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP


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