Anticipate all possible risks before they occur. If something goes wrong, use plans A, B, and others to achieve the planned result. These are the realities of the work of an event manager. Every event is a challenge. The organizer considers every variable and considers the algorithm of actions for any case. Sounds like crisis management. It worked great in peacetime. But when, as lawyers say, “circumstances of force majeure” occur, everything can fall apart. Or not? Let’s consider how to organize the work of an event agency in conditions of full-scale war, implement projects, save the team, and not lose your head.

work in a bomb shelter

The work of a project manager continues even during an air raid

Crisis management and event organization: what do they have in common?

First, the pandemic. Then – a full-scale offensive by the Russians. The first event seriously “undercut” the event organization industry (about 45% of agencies closed permanently or radically reformatted the field of activity). The war, it would seem, was supposed to “finish off” the strongest. After all, there was practically no time to adapt to work in a post-pandemic society until here – new, much more radical challenges. This would have happened if it were not for the natural tendency of professional event organizers to adapt.

An event manager, as you know, deals with planning and coordinating various events, such as conferences, exhibitions, celebrations, corporate events, etc. The main goal is to ensure a successful event following the client’s requirements and objectives. In the conditions of war, all these traditional parameters go to pieces. And precisely at such moments, every organizer turns on the “crisis manager” in himself.

Who is this? At a minimum, a specialist takes over managing projects that are problematic due to technical malfunctions, financial troubles, problems with employees’ health, and other unfavorable circumstances. His task is to predict risks and develop a response plan for each threat.

Event organization and crisis management belong to the general concept of project management. What does a good project manager do? They plan, organizes, coordinate, and control resources (human, material, financial) to achieve a specific goal, which is determined before the start of the project.

But it’s one thing to manage a team. Another is to organize an event where several groups with different structures and levels of competence are usually involved. Here, everything depends on each specialist on the management logic, powers, and responsibility. We at ARENA CS have ensured that horizontally built teams have more chances to “survive” even in severe external challenges. But about everything in turn.

transfer of the ZSU car

In the first weeks and months of the war, the ARENA CS team joined many volunteer projects.

If the “fun times” have already arrived: how to establish project management during the war?

The pandemic and the war became “external factors” for Ukrainian businesses that almost no one could predict. This is the same “force majeure” mentioned in all contracts, but they never thought they would have to work under these conditions. So how do you get project management right when almost everything wrong that could happen already has?

First of all:

  1. Identify the main problems.
  2. Analyze the resources that are available to solve these problems.
  3. Create a work plan in new conditions.
  4. Develop a decision-making mechanism, considering that crucial persons may be geographically distant and out of touch for some time.
  5. Do not forget to motivate the team!
  6. Implement the plan step by step until external conditions stabilize.
  7. After that, sum up the results of project management in a crisis.

How did we at ARENA CS implement this in practice?

Indeed, in February 2022, the projects came to a standstill; most of the team moved to safe places, and the situation was uncertain. The main task was to preserve the team, maintain the psychological and moral state, and prepare for the resumption of work. For this we:

  1. Volunteer and other social projects were launched, which the event managers of the company joined.
  2. They communicated regularly, shared the news, and supported each other.
  3. The reserve fund was used to pay wages during downtime.
  4. It was publicly announced in March that the company works and undertakes social projects, from motivating clients’ employees to pure volunteering.
  5. We began to analyze how our competencies, material and technical resources, and skills can help clients in difficult times of distraction, anxiety, and despair.

This helped to keep most of the team and to resume work very quickly as soon as we received the first inquiries from regular customers.

Point of invincibility from Israel

Projects changed during the war; sometimes, it was the coordination of long-term social initiatives.

Organization of events in the conditions of the “new normal.”

Of course, during a war, even in relatively peaceful regions, it is impossible to prepare events “traditionally.” Even the very approaches and concepts of “event,” “event,” and “event” changed during the war. Curfews, blocked roads, restrictions on movement, alarms, requirements for the safety of locations, alternative sources of electricity, and communication quickly drew new “red lines” for event organizers.

Each project is a mini-challenge, and each preparation is like an organized “chaos management.” There are many challenges: finding locations protected from air attacks, solving logistical problems, and considering moral aspects. For example, we can cite the concept of corporate holiday greetings, devoid of Soviet narratives, Russian language, parties, and dances. Currently, the main focus is supporting the Armed Forces and social initiatives, training in tactical medicine, caring for the close circle of communication, and maintaining mental health.

Of course, in such conditions, traditional approaches to management will be ineffective. The scheme, where one manager controls the activities of subordinates for the field of event organization (and also in the conditions of force majeure), is doomed to failure. ARENA CS saves another approach to organizing processes: horizontal management construction in teams — the culture of freedom and responsibility.

Horizontal project management and teams organization

Horizontal management is an approach to management that involves the cooperation of company specialists at the level of equal partners to achieve common goals. This approach shifts from vertical leadership to group interaction and communication between different divisions and specific specialists.

Every event manager who went through training and internship at ARENA CS and became part of the team knows what we are discussing. This is an opportunity to independently make decisions within the limits of one’s competence, without waiting for the “approval” of the manager or for someone “higher and smarter” to solve the problem independently.

The strategy of horizontal management involves the creation of favorable conditions for effective interaction between team members. The main features of such management:

  • development of leadership skills to ensure self-organization at all levels;
  • communication and information exchange, which allows you to solve problems and achieve common goals quickly;
  • a general strategy for the entire organization that enables everyone to work in the same direction;
  • focus on the client, on his needs and requirements, to be motivated to work on improving services;
  • providing feedback for further quality improvement and professional growth;
  • access to information and knowledge for all specialists in the organization to stimulate collaboration and interaction.
arena cs графік івентів

Chart of the dependence of the number of implemented projects on external circumstances and approaches to work organization

Assessment of the effectiveness of project management

The principles of horizontal management in ARENA CS have been working since 2015, and the positive results are apparent. Before this event, the agency had 700-800 orders per year. After the new management scheme was constructed, orders increased significantly (from 1,513 in 2015 to 1,983 in “early” 2019). When the “Covid” restrictions were lifted, the company quickly gained momentum and organized 1,880 events in 2021.

An organized team, the market’s potential — all this helped to resume work quickly. Of course, it is appropriate to expect such results during the war years. However, in conditions where many event companies closed temporarily or permanently, ARENA CS successfully implemented 649 projects in 2022. And this is taking into account that we received the first orders after the start of the full-scale offensive only at the beginning of summer. Not all projects were events: there were many logistical and volunteer tasks. However, we did not change the approach to their implementation, and it demonstrated its effectiveness.

Therefore, the correct training of specialists (event manager = crisis manager) and the principles of horizontal power distribution positively affect the company’s development even in difficult external conditions. If each specialist has certain powers and can make responsible decisions, it increases the sense of tactility and contributes to more effective teamwork. The level of trust and understanding between participants grows, making it possible to avoid conflicts and jointly implement the most ambitious projects even under the intense pressure of circumstances over which we have limited influence.