Leading Your Team Through The Critical Moments

from Scene 2Every team faces those moments when all of their labor and effort are put to the test. It might be the day of the big race or the ship date for a new product. For my team, it was now Easter weekend, and our church’s big event, our Easter production, was having a difficult week.

These productions, which we create and perform at Christmas and Easter every year, are a big deal to us. They are one of the vehicles we use to insert ourselves into our community with the message of hope in the Gospel, and we perform them at the local high school.  And they are well-received, many visitors come, they look forward to them.

And so our rehearsals for the cast and music team had been ramping up, lines and blocking were getting nailed down, lyrics and grooves were starting to gel, set pieces were being designed and built by our stage crew. And we had the foresight to ask for an additional setup day at the school this time, so when we carried everything in and set it all up on Wednesday, we were a day ahead of our normal schedule.  Felt good, we were on track.

And then it got weird.

The Other Event

Thursday morning, we got a call from the school, letting us know that somehow a performance in the high school auditorium had been overlooked when we booked it, and there would be a large group of elementary kids coming to see a stage production late morning. They needed us to remove our set pieces and sound system in a hurry.

Just what you want to hear the day before your dress rehearsal.

So three of our guys rushed over, unplugged, pushed, coiled and roped off, creating a suitable compromise that saved the day for the school. But that night, we had to redo what they had undone, and we pretty much lost the day.

But we still had dress rehearsal on Friday night, so no worries. Right?

Powerless

I don’t remember the exact time I got the news on Friday, but it wasn’t much before the starting time for our dress rehearsal.  The school was dark, it had lost power, along with half of the village.  I checked the power company’s website, and we thought we’d have it back pretty soon, so we still gathered at the school, ready to dive in whenever the lights came on.

The estimates for restoring power kept getting later and later. It became obvious to us that no rehearsal was going to happen at the school for the rest of the night, so we met together in the cafeteria (the windows allowed us to see each other as the evening light dimmed outside).

Now I have to tell you, whenever I have to speak to a large group of people, I get nervous.  Even though these people are all my friends and even though I have spoken to many groups in the past, there is nothing quite like being the person everyone is looking to for a plan in the midst of unsure circumstances.  I do not revel in those moments as some leaders might.  Give me a guitar and a song, I’m good to go. But this shooting-from-the-hip sort of thing makes me a little crazy.

We looked at our options and decided to move back to the church for one more cast-only rehearsal.  But everyone understood, and I heard not a hint of complaining from our folks. If we had been a paid, professional company, I daresay that would not have been the case. Instead, we prayed together.

Facing the Heat

We arrived a bit earlier than planned on Saturday so that we could do our dress rehearsal. It was almost funny when we walked into the auditorium and found it to be 120 degrees (our best guess).  The power outage had apparently reset heating systems in every school in town. Thanks to a very helpful custodial staff, fans were brought in and they got the air circulating somewhat. By late afternoon, the AC was on and we were good to go. And we finished our rehearsing just before the doors opened. 

There were other technical complications as well. Melting gels on lights, computers winking out and back on.  What a ride! But our team stepped up, kept focused and worked together to make it happen.  I am always proud of our people for their dedication and esprit de corp. Never more so than this weekend!

The finale
The finale

Lessons for the Leader

It turned out to be a great weekend and a wonderful service.  And I have had a few lessons reinforced for me, principles that may help you as you lead your team.

  1.  Don’t procrastinate in planning or preparing. Our team had done a really good job of rehearsing, and the main things we didn’t get to were staging issues. If materials can get in the hands of the cast and music team before everything is rushed, the better prepared (and happier) they will be.
  2. Be forthcoming with your team about difficulties. We talked about the issues that could have derailed us and we formulated a plan together.  We’re much stronger as a team!
  3. Celebrate your team. When people step up, whether onstage, behind the curtain, in the sound booth or taking care of unexpected circumstances, everyone does their part to make an event like this successful. We, as leaders, cannot say “thank you” too much!
  4. Weigh your own behaviors carefully.  People are looking to you for a plan, for confidence, for an optimistic outlook that will help them exercise faith.  Giving up, losing control or being fatalistic are all options that lead to disaster.

And one final step for me – though I can’t predict a power outage, I can and will call the school early in the week next time to confirm there are no other performances!

 We have a great team.  I am honored to lead this group of artists.

 How does your team handle unhelpful surprises? Please comment below or contact me with any questions at [email protected].

 © 2014 Steve Case