Tips for Running an Effective COVID-19 Rapid Response Team

During times of upheaval and crisis, it’s not just about making the right decisions—it’s about making them quickly. But you may find that your existing processes and procedures (however thoughtfully composed and elegantly designed in ordinary times) feel clunky in this situation, like wearing hiking boots to a sprint race.

Enter: the Rapid Response Team (RRT).

A rapid response team allows you to be nimble, thoughtful, and decisive without short-circuiting the systems you have in place. Here are some things to consider as you set one up for COVID-19:

1. Composition

Your rapid response team should meet the following criteria:

  • Taken as a whole, the members have a broad purview over your organization
  • It includes senior leaders / key decision-makers in the organization
  • Each member is available to meet frequently
  • It’s small enough (3-5 people) to meet regularly and make quick decisions
  • At least one person should know the ins and outs of your finances and have the authority to make financial decisions
  • Represents a diversity of identities, experiences, and backgrounds

At TMC, our rapid response team members are our Director of HR and Operations, Head of Training, Managing Director, Chief of Staff, and the CEO when needed. In some cases, your leadership or executive team could serve as the RRT. If your executive team has more than five people, you could select a smaller subset of that team to serve as your rapid response team.

You might also consider creating related committees (or even sub-committees) to think through specific areas of the work or your organization. For example, at TMC, we have a “culture committee” that is responsible for figuring out how to keep our staff connected during the pandemic.

If your organization has fewer than six people: instead of creating a rapid response team, consider holding daily team meetings to gather input and ideas. Then, have a smaller group of decision-makers (likely your senior leaders).

2. Ownership of agenda-setting and facilitation

Assign one clear owner to set the agenda and facilitate each call. Ideally, this person should be someone who has a bird’s-eye view of the organization and can use that perspective to prioritize discussion topics.

3. Decision-making

Specify your mode of decision-making for each topic. Are you brainstorming and trying to surface as many ideas and perspectives as possible? Is someone coming to the table with a few options to consult with the group? Or, has someone already identified a solution and is in “persuade” or “tell” mode?

Also, be clear about who the ultimate decider is. Some decisions might be made by consensus or majority vote, but others could (and probably should) be owned by the relevant team or department lead. Regardless of how decision-making happens, this group should have the authority to make (and change!) decisions as the situation evolves.

Lastly, keep in mind that not all decisions need to be made by this team. In some cases, the RRT will act more like a dispatcher—identifying decisions that need to be made or solutions to be figured out, and delegating them to members of your broader team as appropriate.

4. Meeting frequency and agenda

This will vary based on organizational and external factors. In early March, our rapid response team was meeting twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays. As the situation escalated and more shifts began happening at a quicker pace, we switched to meeting daily for 20-30 minutes at a time, and as things have stabilized slightly the group is down to three times a week.

Here’s our rough agenda:

  • Quick updates – New developments or news (internal or external). This could include local, state, or federal government updates or orders, news about how communities are being impacted, and what we’re hearing from staff and constituents.
  • Discussion items – For a 20-30 minute meeting, there’s usually only time for one major topic or two medium-sized topics. Some examples include: deciding on a remote work policy, talking about how new federal policies will impact paid leave, and discussing a potential hiring freeze.
  • Internal communications planning – Decide what needs to be communicated to staff and other constituents, how it should be communicated, and by whom.
  • Next steps – Assign owners and set deadlines for follow-up items.

5. Communication with the rest of the team

It’s important for staff (and constituent, and stakeholder) morale that they know who is on your rapid response team, how often it meets, what topics are under consideration, and what the team decides. Share decisions as quickly as possible, including information about:

  • When the decision will go into effect, and for how long
  • Key considerations that informed the decision
  • The timeframe for when the decision will be revisited (if applicable)