Repairing Working Relationships after an Organizational Crisis

Topic(s): change management
Publication: Academy of Management Review
Article: Organizational Crisis and the Disturbance of Relational Systems
Authors: William Kahn, Michelle Barton and Steve Fellows
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

We’ve all had those moments of sheer and utter panic: you completely forgot about that client meeting in twenty minutes; you made a monumental error on a deliverable you just sent over; or that instant message about how much you hate your job somehow found its way onto your boss’s computer screen. Ahhhh! Well, organizations enter a similar type of “crisis mode” when the unexpected happens, or when threatened by high-impact events that may have seemed unlikely to occur, but now have.

The current research adds to the literature on organizational crisis management by emphasizing that damage to relationships may linger once a crisis has been resolved from a simple business operations standpoint. These dysfunctional relationship patterns introduce hidden vulnerabilities and can cause long-term issues with performance.

The authors explain that an integral component of the recovery process post-crisis is repairing any damage to relationships that occurred. To prevent a long-term drain on a company’s performance these relationships must be restored to health.

Effective responses to organizational crises must address not only what caused the crisis, but also how the crisis has affected peoples’ ties to one another. Although stressful situations put a strain on relationships, if well handled, they can have the opposite effect and should be seen as an opportunity to bring people closer together than they were pre-crisis.

Bottom line: Operational recovery is integral to restoring order post organizational crisis, but if you burn all your bridges in the process, you’ll end up winning the battle but losing the war.