1. Build a Core Recovery Team

Successful recovery is the product of a team effort. A team structure for the recovery process is essential, at the heart of which is the core recovery team. In this section of the site you can learn about:

  • Keys to putting the recovery team together
  • Tasks for the recovery team

Keys to Putting the Team Together 

Look for successful models in your organization. If you have a team structure that works well for budgeting, long-term financial planning, capital improvement planning, or strategic planning consider using that structure.
Define needed roles. Establish the roles you will have on the recovery team. In addition to the leader, most recovery teams will need people in at least the following roles: finance expert, human resources expert, operations/program expert, and communications specialist (stakeholder management). Governments with important connections to other governments may also need a specialist in intergovernmental relations. A technology support might also be important, especially if technology is seen as important tool for reaching recovery.
Identify potential participants. Ideally, the senior management team will become the recovery team. However, this may not always be possible. The leader must identify which senior managers can contribute to the recovery process. Those chosen for the team must be analytical, good communicators, and not change-adverse. They must be able to deal with the fact that cutbacks may be required and be able to think and plan from an organization-wide (rather than a departmental) perspective. They must also be able to take criticism and remain determined in adverse circumstances.
The team might also identify good analysts who are not senior managers to be resources that the team can call upon as the need arises.
Consider the role elected officials will have on the team, if any. The level of elected official involvement will depend on the organizational culture and preferences of the board. For example, some organizations may have a well defined policy/administration separation such that a team composed of just staff would be a better fit. In this case, elected officials should still have a role in the process, as described on the elected officials page of this site. If it does fit the culture, elected officials can be good additions to the team because they have a sense for what is politically possible and have a special skill for championing solutions and shaping the debate in the public. Typically, only a few officials at most would be included in order to keep the team size manageable.
Make sure day-to-day operations are covered. Day-to-day services must be provided while the team does its work. Identify any risks to regular service delivery arising from focusing key staff on the recovery process and plan accordingly.
Consider the need for personnel replacements. In some cases, it may be necessary to replace personnel in order to form a solid team. Two situations to be alert for include the possibility of professional malpractice and the perpetual denial of a declining financial position.
Consider the need for legal advice. Legal expertise should be engaged early when large and complex issues are at stake. Examples include opening labor agreements, clarifying the legal authority of officials within the government, or making changes to revenues that are governed by state law. In addition, legal expertise should be involved if any professional malpractice is discovered or suspected.

Tasks for the Recovery Team

See the change and persuade others that it is the way to go. The recovery team must define a vision for what the financial recovery looks like and enlist others in supporting that vision. The recovery team should be sure to engage elected officials in defining the vision.
Provide leadership. The recovery team can help perform all the duties and tasks described in the Recovery Leadership section of this site.
Develop "'champions"” outside of the team. The recovery team will need help. It should find staff members who “"get it"” and involve them in the recovery process.
Provide guidance to other teams. A recovery process will likely entail the creation of other teams to help diagnose the situation and develop treatments. The core recovery team recruits, orients, and defines the mission for these teams.
Evaluate strategies and carry them forward. The recovery team evaluates potential strategies for recovery. Depending on the composition of the team, it may need to recommend these strategies to the board for final approval, but, in any event, the recovery team is the fulcrum for moving the strategies from idea to action.
Help manage any immediate financial crisis. The team makes and enforces decisions that have a direct impact on expenditures until any immediate crisis has passed. In particular, the team may need to take a central role in freezing expenditures such as outside hiring, promotions, and capital expenditures. The team also reviews and approves any proposed exceptions to the freezes.
Don’t let a crisis go to waste. While the goal of fiscal first aid is first and foremost to help stabilize the financial position of the organization, opportunities to make needed changes to ways of doing business and providing services should not be overlooked. Past discussions that have focused on the need for changes to areas within the organization should be re-visited to see if taking action on an area of identified need could potentially help with the overall recovery efforts.

2. Developing Other Teams

In addition to the core recovery team, consider developing other teams to help with the recovery process. Tasks that supporting teams may be charged with include developing a long-term forecast, developing and managing a communications plan, and developing recovery strategies. Often teams will be cross-functional and may comprise individuals who have no prior experience working together. These teams also will almost always be temporary. In this case, the chances for success will be greatly increased through teambuilding. The sections below review the advice of William Dyer, et al. in Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance on the four major steps for developing temporary teams:

Develop a Realistic Priority of the Team’s Work

The team members usually have other job responsibilities outside the team. Consequently, it is helpful for members to understand the relative priority other members place on the team and the time commitment they can make. Consider having each team member assign a priority score to the team from zero to 100, where 100 is the highest priority relative to all their other work assignments and responsibilities. Also, have each member write down the amount of time he or she is willing to commit to the team over a given month. Summarize the priority scores and time commitments for the team and provide an opportunity for each member to explain his or her score. Then come to a workable agreement on a realistic amount of time and energy the team as a whole can commit.

Share Expectations

Have each member think about and respond to the following questions:

  • What is your top concern about working on this team?
  • How would this team function in your ideal scenario?
  • What are the barriers to this team working well?
  • What actions do you think are needed to ensure positive outcomes?

Give everyone an opportunity to respond to each question and identify major issues. The team should regularly monitor these issues as financial first aid efforts continue and circumstances evolve.

Clarify Goals

First, the team should define its ‘mission’ - a statement of the team’s reason for being. The recovery leadership should have largely defined the team’s mission for it, but the team can put the mission in its own words. The team should use the mission to evaluate the actions it proposes to take, namely - does the action further the team’s mission? Using the mission as a guide, the team can develop sub-goals and metrics to show progress made. The recovery leadership may have already defined some of the team’s sub-goals. The team can put these into its own words and also develop any other sub-goals it deems necessary. Once the sub-goals are set, the team can make assignments to its members.

Formulate Operating Guidelines

The team must define how it will work together, including how changes will be made if previous arrangements are not proving successful. This step clarifies team members’ expectations on how the team will operate. Some of the questions to answer as part of this step include:

  • How will decisions be made? Consensus is preferred, but team members must accept that consensus-building is hard work and that consensus is not the same as unanimity (not everyone will always be thrilled with the final decision, but they will at least support it). Consensus is achieved by giving everyone a chance to participate in a decision and getting feedback on team members’ feelings on the direction of decision.
  • How will work be performed? Will sub-groups or individuals split off to perform assignments and then report back or will the group as a whole consider issues? Any method is fine, but the team should define its preferences.
  • How can concerns or issues be raised? It is critical that team members feel that they have the ability to raise issues of interest. There are many possible ways to achieve this. For example, team members may be permitted to add items to the agenda or there may be time reserved at the end of each meeting for open discussion.
  • How will differences be resolved? Eventual differences in opinion are unavoidable. Differences must be managed so that they don’t deteriorate into conflict that cripples the team. A written guideline for dealing with differences can be helpful.
  • How will accountability for completing work be created? The first step is to agree that no assignments will be made or given where the assignee cannot honestly complete the task in the time given. The work from the first step is helpful here - if the team has a clear understanding of each member’s priority and time commitments, it can avoid making assignments that have no realistic chance of being completed.
  • Next, take minutes of each meeting that have a clear summary of the actions coming out of the meeting, including what the decision was, who is to do what, when it will be completed, and the date they will report progress. And ensure minutes are provided to the members of the group and broader leadership team.  
  • How can things that are not producing results be changed? The team should agree on procedures to periodically review its work, take stock of successes and failures, and agree on a course to correct deficiencies.
  • How can major stakeholders be kept informed? The team should create a list of the major stakeholders who will evaluate the team’s final work product. Further, the team should also identify who should be kept informed of any team decision as well as who might need to approve the team’s decisions. With this information, the team will be able to engage these stakeholders at major milestones.

3. Analyze Stakeholders

Many people will have a stake in the outcome of the recovery process. Those people will likely exert influence on the process.

Identify Critical Stakeholders

First, identify the most important stakeholders. Although these will vary for each locality, common stakeholder groups include the following:

  • Internal stakeholders: governing board, independent elected officials, executive managers, collective bargaining groups, employees
  • External stakeholders: primary users of service, media, influential citizens, financiers, support groups, non-governmental organizations, other governments

Diagnose Stakeholder Position

Some stakeholders will support recovery and some will resist the actions that are needed. Diagnose their position to learn what barriers may be ahead or where help might be found. For example, the position of collective bargaining units can have a real impact on the recovery. If a bargaining unit is wholly unwilling to reconsider any form of restructuring of compensation, for example, it will have big impact on how recovery is approached.

Formal feedback is not needed to assess stakeholder position. Rather, careful listening will work. For example, listen to people who come to board meetings, read the editorial section of the local paper, and read local blogs. Learning what people talk about most often will reveal what is most important to them.

Also – particular attention should be paid to engagement of an organization’s employees. Employees need to fully understand the need for the recovery efforts and why decisions were made. Any necessary actions are likely going to have impacts on staff and will also likely need the support of employees to implement recommended actions as well.

When using the informal approach, beware of pitfalls such as:

  • "Confirmation bias" or over-weighting information that confirms one’s existing world-view
  • Over-emphasizing the views of those who are loudest or talked most recently.
  • Over-estimating your own knowledge of stakeholder positions. Make sure to do the necessary research to reach the most accurate conclusions.


Engage Stakeholders

Once the stakeholders are identified and their positions analyzed, a strategy can be developed to engage them. Below are principles for engaging stakeholders.

  • Communicate thoroughly. Stakeholders will want a lot of information to reduce the uncertainty that surrounds any recovery process and to satisfy themselves that they can form their own views about how their interests are being impacted. This includes articulating why certain options were selected versus other alternatives, so stakeholders can better understand the group’s logic.
  • Articulate a vision. Stakeholders will find a solid recovery plan and vision reassuring.
  • Balance transparency with discretion. Be open with information, but don’t make rash disclosures that could harm your bargaining position.
  • Engage people. In many cases, a stakeholder will be another organization. However, organizations are made up of people. Understand the people’s interests and how to engage them.
  • Manage perceptions and reality. Understand where stakeholders’ perceptions differ from reality. Then try to shape their expectations accordingly.
  • Develop a special approach for elected officials. Elected officials are a distinct stakeholder group. Use special approaches to work together.
  • Engage the media. Hold media briefings before public meetings to answer their questions and help get your story out to the public. Be responsive to media inquiries. Also use ‘new media’ technologies, like blogs, to reach the public more directly.
  • Adapt message for audience. If communicating with different groups individually ensure that any particular interests of those groups are addressed and discussed.