top of page

Clarity Amidst Chaos

Things do not always go to plan. That’s what happens in life. So what is key when things go wrong?

On 24th October a train line came down near Colchester. On that particular day, I was heading into London for some coaching training and as I arrived at Stowmarket station the display board lit up with cancelled, cancelled, cancelled for all the London trains. “You’ll need to take the train to Cambridge and then go to London,” said the guard. So when the single carriage train arrived we all piled in. Once we were all squeezed in the announcement came over the tannoy. “There will be a train going to London, go to the other platform and the train will take you to Ipswich and change for a London train.” So we all piled off, went over the bridge on got on the Ipswich bound train. Arriving at Ipswich, we asked, “where is the train to London?” We were directed to platform 4 and a heaving mass crowded on, all finding seats on the train. At last, I was ready for the journey. And then the announcement came over the train tannoy again, “the next train to London will actually be on platform 3.” So gathering up the laptop and items unpacked I headed off to the next train. I arrived at Liverpool Street station 2 3/4 hours later after (normally a 70 minute journey). Now, here I confess that my dad is a train spotter. He would have loved a bit of train hopping. But this train hopping was caused by lack of communication and clear systems, fuelling a difficult situation into a train-spotting farce.

I’m sure the train company had a very stressful day trying to manage the situation. The key thing on a day like that is finding a way to stop a difficult, unforeseen situation turning into chaos. And, if it does turn into chaos, what is needed most is clarity in the midst of chaos. So, how do you bring clarity? Try these 7 C's.

  • Consider plan B’s before they are needed

  • Create simple clear systems

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

  • Calm breads calm

  • Compassion

  • Congratulate - thank staff & people for their understanding

  • Critique

Consider plan B’s before they are needed

In 2016 I was at a funeral. Just before entering, I got a call that 100 miles away the school that I was headteacher of had received a bomb scare. I confirmed with my Assistant Head to evacuate, in line with our site evacuation procedure. Moments later, my Assistant Head and my staff evacuated 700 people to a neighbouring school whilst I headed back (arriving after it had all been sorted). The site evacuation procedure, chatted through twice a year, was put into action. It was a highly stressful day for all concerned but made easier by having a plan B. If you want to make a bad situation easier, consider 'what would we do if . . . ' on a range of situations, on regular occasions. It helps reduce the risk of chaos or at least make chaos feel more manageable.

Create simple clear systems

When planning beforehand and when you have to suddenly sort something, try to keep new 'chaos busting' arrangements as simple as possible and with as least change as possible from the norm. This makes it feel more familiar. Create simple lines of authority. This makes it easy to manage when people are stressed in a chaotic situation.


One of the reasons that trip to London had an element of chaos was that not every train staff member had the latest information. So create systems that allows the latest information to get to everyone through various means. Use software or Apps to get straight through to each team member. Create a plan B system so that in the event of a problem, staff know how they will be communicated to.

Calm breads calm

All credit to the staff at the train stations on that chaotic train cancellation day, everyone was friendly, understanding and calm. As a result, it helped keep customers calmer. Train staff to manage difficult situations and how to remain calm.


The train staff had a tone, body language and words of understanding. Words like “I’m sorry this is happening,” and “yes it is frustrating and I will try to help you,” all help to keep your customers as your customers.


Saying thank you to staff & people for their understanding can make a huge difference. Chaotic things are frustrating at the time but if you can create a sense of we are all in this together it helps create that ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and get people pulling together not apart.


After the chaos, review how it went. Start with what worked well as this helps develop creative thinking when it comes to what didn’t work well and what you can do if it happens again. Failure to critique the situation means you are more likely to compound any mistakes again. Critique also allows staff to give feedback and let go of any frustrations from things that didn’t go so well.

Things go wrong or don't turn out as planned. That's life. But when it does, make sure you have equipped your team to bring clarity in the midst of chaos. It might help keep your customers as customers.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page