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The Importance of Strong Teams During a Crisis


“Having a great staff during a crisis is the most critical aspect of a business,” said Lisa Owens, the office manager and director of HR for The Wave in Whitefish, Montana.

Many health club operators have realized the truth behind this statement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which called on teams to pivot quickly and overcome unforeseen and surmounting challenges.

“Having the confidence [your team] can handle the rapid changes coming at them, assist members in the best possible way and treat coworkers with respect all make handling a pandemic an easier transition,” continued Owens. “This pandemic has shown me how quickly people and staff can change, and how you have to adapt to their new fears, feelings and confidence levels.”

According to Owens, the pandemic also revealed how quickly a disconnect can happen among teams without daily communication.

“We had strong teams when we closed, but have had to work hard to maintain and get back to where we were pre-closure,” explained Owens. “Creating that team unity after having been apart will be key once we open our doors. It has all shown me that during the time of a crisis you get to see a new side to all people. What you do with the new view will determine retention, team unity, business success and your plan moving forward.”

Allison Breunig, the hiring and enculturation manager for Gainesville Health & Fitness in Gainesville, Florida, also stressed the importance of strong teams throughout a crisis and shared the qualities great teams exhibit.

“The best thing about having a great staff in a crisis is they mobilize fast, take charge and get things done,” said Breunig. “They are the activators, the leaders and the influencers that have an impact on everyone around them. And, they make a difference in the face of a crisis to protect staff, members and the company.”

Breunig saw these qualities exhibited by Gainesville Health & Fitness’ staff — including group fitness instructors.

“We had to close and less than 24 hours later our group fitness instructors were starting online workouts or live sessions not only for our members, but the community — a true desire to inspire an entire community,” recalled Breunig. “This was before we could tell the staff that we were still paying them and not to worry. They weren’t worried about getting a paycheck but ‘how will our members stay healthy?’”

As Gainesville Health & Fitness neared its reopening date, Breunig explained this teamwork continued to be on fully display.

“Teams organized by department came back into the gym immediately to start cleaning, upgrading and figuring out our new normal,” said Breunig. “They created assignment boards every day to direct everyone’s efforts. Other ‘doers’ created new online hiring systems, training programs and reopening schedules. It was amazing to see everyone come together for each other, the members and the company.”

As operators continue to bring their teams back, Owens advised using this time to ensure buy-in while still exhibiting compassion.

“Unfortunately with the unemployment insurance benefits being so high, it has been a hard road with some employees to get them to want to return,” said Owens. “Getting the buy in on why they should return has proved a challenge, but thus far we have been successful. It is also important to remember that they are scared and fearful of the uncertain times. Taking the time to make a deeper connection more often helps with the reassurance they need.”

If anything, the pandemic has revealed strong teams and good leadership are more important than ever.

“From this pandemic it reminded us that we are all better together,” said Breunig. “Everyone has a role to ensure we can all properly function and achieve our goal. And sometimes we can’t reach that goal from doing the same thing because new guidelines come out that make us push ourselves to adapt.”

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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