The Importance of ‘Showing Your Work’ in Crises

By admin Jan 17, 2024

We have all benefited from our math teacher’s guidance in showing our work for a math problem. Even though we did not get points for arriving at the correct answer, we probably earned partial credit for showing how we arrived at the answer. In the end, identifying where the error occurred in our work was far more valuable to our understanding.

So, what do a math problem and a crisis management exercise have in common, aside from inducing stress? The value of showing our work expedites growth and the potential to find more efficient approaches to a problem.

The Value of Crisis Exercises

Crisis exercises like tabletops and simulations are valuable tools for evaluating and improving an organization’s response strategies and resources. These simulated scenarios imitate the unpredictable nature of real-life crises while creating a controlled environment for teams to enhance their actions and

Of course, tabletops and simulations are two very different types of exercises regarding design, objectives, and level of participation. Tabletops are intended for facilitated, discussion-based exercises and are not ideal for participants to create situational updates or holding statements. On the other hand, simulations offer greater realism regarding how the scenario progresses and require greater effort by participants, making them ideal for “showing the work.”

When navigating the intricacies of crisis exercises, one essential factor for success is “showing your work.” This sometimes means taking the time to document and validate the decisions and actions taken during the simulation. In most cases, it simply means taking the actions that your organization has written, using the templates and tools to communicate an update, track actions, engage internal and external resources, or simply understanding the current status of the situation and response.

Participating in a “fake” crisis with the same level of effort as a real one may seem burdensome. Still, it holds immense value in validating the accuracy and effectiveness of processes, technology tools, templates, and other activities. This validation goes beyond a mere procedural requirement or a theoretical description; the exercise achieves greater value to the individual participants, the crisis management team, and the broader organization. In other words, it enhances realistic experience and detects gaps, dependencies, or errors that can cause harm during a real crisis.

Why “Showing Your Work” in Crises Matters

“Showing your work” in crises means demonstrating that the “thing” on paper is as value-added, efficient, and practical as intended during a crisis.

For example, before its yearly crisis exercise, a healthcare technology company’s crisis management team declared that one of its primary goals was to evaluate its procedure for creating, reviewing, authorizing, and distributing messaging in the event of a crisis. During previous exercises, the team encountered difficulties ensuring that the messaging was appropriately reviewed and approved before its release, both externally and internally, and provided to internal stakeholders responsible for conveying it to stakeholders.

As the company addressed these gaps, the crisis management team and key leaders wanted to test the revised processes by ensuring their annual multi-day simulation exercise appropriately challenged the team and processes.

During the initial stages of the exercise, the scenario required the team to deliver straightforward messaging to a set of internal and external stakeholders acknowledging an incident had occurred; in other words, a practical test of the process from start to finish without any unique complications.

As the exercise progressed, the communications process became more challenging, as conflicting information and unrelated events created confusion and noise, and the intentional departure of a critical approver was introduced, invoking more significant stress on the process.

Ultimately, the new communication process could adapt and overcome challenges that had caused it to fail in past exercises. The escalating complications in the scenario allowed the team to identify areas for improvement, such as incorporating a backup approver and ensuring a review by the crisis leader and relevant subject-matter experts before publishing, particularly for chaotic or rapidly developing situations.

Benefits of “Showing Your Work” in Crises

As the example above demonstrates, showing your work involves more than presenting final outcomes. It requires transparency and collaboration, where you share the processes and reasoning behind your decisions, solutions, or creative work. This approach helps to enhance understanding, promote continuous learning, build muscle memory, and fuel improvement through constructive feedback. By showing your work in crises, you can build trust, encourage collaboration, document processes, and foster innovation. It cultivates a culture of openness, accountability, and collective growth. Let’s explore some advantages that “showing your work” can offer.

Enhanced Understanding

Showing your work enhances understanding by offering transparency in decision-making or problem-solving. Whether it’s a mathematical solution or a strategic decision, breaking down the steps involved provides clarity and insight into the rationale behind the outcome.

Learning Opportunity

Showing your work becomes a valuable learning opportunity for others. By sharing the methodology, individuals trying to grasp a concept or skill can benefit from the insights and experiences of those who have already navigated similar challenges.

Feedback and Improvement

Transparently displaying your work invites constructive feedback, leading to continuous improvement. Peers and mentors can identify areas for enhancement, correct errors, and offer valuable insights that contribute to refining your approach.

Building Trust

Transparent communication builds trust. When you openly share your work, it demonstrates a commitment to honesty and openness, fostering trust among colleagues, clients, or stakeholders who may rely on your expertise.


In collaborative projects, showing your work fosters effective teamwork. Team members can align their efforts more efficiently when they understand the reasoning behind decisions, enabling a smoother, more cohesive collaboration.


Showing your work in crises serves as documentation of your process. This documentation can be valuable for future reference, audits, or onboarding new team members who need to understand the historical context of decisions made.

 Problem-Solving Skills

The act of articulating and presenting your work enhances your problem-solving skills. It requires critical thinking as you communicate your thought process clearly, helping you become more adept at tackling complex challenges.


Transparently sharing your work can lead to recognition for your efforts. Whether it’s acknowledgment within a team or broader recognition for innovative solutions, showcasing your work allows others to appreciate the effort and creativity invested.

Promoting Innovation

Openly sharing work contributes to a culture of innovation. Others may build upon your ideas, and exchanging insights can lead to developing new and creative solutions that benefit the entire team or organization.


Showing your work is a demonstration of accountability. By openly presenting the steps and decisions made, it encourages a responsible and ethical approach to problem-solving or decision-making, reinforcing a culture of accountability within a team or organization.

“Showing Your Work” in Crises has its Challenges

While there are numerous benefits to showing your work in crises, there are also challenges associated with this practice. Here are some common challenges:

Vulnerability / Fear of Misinterpretation

Sharing your work exposes your thought processes and decision-making to scrutiny. This vulnerability can be challenging, especially if there’s a fear of criticism or judgment from others. There is also a risk that others may misinterpret your work, leading to misunderstandings. Conveying that the artificialities of the exercise may inhibit specific processes or resources is crucial to avoid misconceptions.

Time Constraints

In an exercise, time constraints limit the ability to demonstrate or explain every step of a process thoroughly. Balancing efficiency with transparency can be challenging, but it is undoubtedly difficult in a real crisis.


Some tasks or projects may be inherently complex, making it challenging to distill and communicate the intricacies of your work clearly and understandably, or potentially occur over a more extended period or with additional resources not available in an exercise setting.

Resistance to Change

Organizations may face resistance when adopting a crisis management template, following a specific process, or delegating decision-making to a different authority. Responding to a crisis is unusual for an organization, and it may not align with the usual approaches or structures.

Confidentiality Concerns

In certain situations, especially in sensitive industries or projects, there may be concerns about disclosing too much information about a process, decision-making criteria, or other resources available in a crisis due to confidentiality requirements or concerns.

Recommendations for Your Next Exercise

To enhance opportunities for participants to “show their work” in your next exercise, consider implementing these recommendations to create a dynamic and impactful exercise that fosters continuous improvement and enhances overall crisis preparedness and response capabilities.

Set Clear Exercise Objectives and Expectations

Clear objectives and communication of expectations are crucial in a crisis exercise. They help participants understand the goals and outcomes of the exercise, align with organizational priorities, foster a coordinated response, and clarify expectations regarding participation and documentation requirements. This approach facilitates a thorough evaluation of processes, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and promotes continuous improvement in crisis preparedness and response.

Realistic Scenarios

Realistic scenarios are crucial for effective crisis exercises as they provide a sense of authenticity. Such scenarios mimic the complexity and unpredictability of real-life crises, challenging participants to navigate similar situations. This requires situational awareness, following pre-defined processes, leveraging resources, and producing outputs. Doing so bridges the gap between theory and practice. Solving a math problem differs from discussing it on the classroom smart board.

Scenario Challenges & Integrating Consequences

During an exercise, the facilitators may introduce unexpected scenario challenges or twists. This helps to encourage participants to adapt their strategies in real time and provides opportunities to showcase agility, problem-solving under pressure, and adaptability. These consequences force the crisis management team to evaluate whether the organization’s processes, procedures, templates, and resources would be effective in actual crises.

After-Action Reviews are Essential

Debriefings and after-action reviews are indispensable to any exercise or real-life crisis. These structured sessions allow teams to evaluate their performance together, analyze documented evidence, and identify improvement areas. This retrospective analysis not only helps to reinforce the lessons learned but also serves as a trigger for continuous improvement in crisis response capabilities.

Cross-Functional Collaboration:

Structure the exercise to require cross-functional collaboration. Participants can showcase their ability to collaborate across diverse skill sets and perspectives by working with individuals from different disciplines or departments.

Incorporate Technology Platforms or Take Them Away

Utilize technology platforms that allow participants to share their screens, collaborate digitally, and visually showcase their work. This can include virtual whiteboards, collaboration tools, or simulation software with presentation features. Removing these platforms can also force teams to demonstrate redundancy or continuity planning, or lack thereof.

Showcase Key Documentation and Processes

During crisis management team meetings, allowing members to present important documents, processes, or resources they use during an activation can be helpful. This provides a better understanding of specific or unique aspects of the crisis response and promotes collaboration and cohesion within the team. 

Obtain Full Credit for the Work

Remember, “showing your work” in crises is not only about communicating the end result but also cultivating a culture that values transparency, developing effective communication and collaboration skills, and addressing potential barriers that may hinder testing the organization’s resiliency capabilities. This requires a deliberate and strategic approach in the crisis management program and during the exercise planning. The long-term benefits of improved comprehension, collaboration, and constant progress usually outweigh the challenges of “showing your work.”

Want to work with us or learn more about exercises?

  • Our proprietary Resiliency Diagnosis process is the perfect way to advance your crisis management, business continuity, and crisis communications program. Our thorough standards-based review culminates in a full report, maturity model scoring, and a clear set of recommendations for improvement.
  • Our Exercise in a Box product contains 15 simple tabletop exercise scenarios that your business leaders can utilize for crisis microsimulations with minimal involvement from your team.
  • With our Exercise in a Day™️  product, you’ll get a comprehensive, ready-to-execute crisis tabletop exercise developed by our team of experts in just one day. Optionally, we’ll even facilitate the exercise and write an after-action report.
  • Our Crisis Management services help you rapidly implement and mature your program to ensure your organization is prepared for what lies ahead.
  • Our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management contains everything you need to know about Crisis Management.
  • Our Free Crisis Management 101 Introductory Course may help you with an introduction to the world of crisis management – and help prepare your organization for the next major crisis.
  • Learn about our Free Resources, including articles, a resource library, white papers, reports, free introductory courses, webinars, and more.
  • Set up an initial call with us to chat further about how we might be able to work together.

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