Don’t panic! What COVID-19 teaches us about teamwork under pressure

Lessons learned

Like me, you may have watched with wonder the videos circulating on social media of Italians and other Europeans singing from the windows of their apartments while under lockdown against COVID-19.

The videos are a reminder of humans’ awesome and irrepressible courage in the face of disaster. In the same way, survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York recall that people sang while fleeing the burning buildings.

Despite media reporting of ‘panic buying’, panic is rare, even in the most desperate situations. The author and journalist Amanda Ripley interviewed many survivors and witnesses of disasters for her remarkable book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When The Disaster Strikes – And Why. Ripley finds that people rarely panic in disasters. The reason, she suggests, is that it is simply not a useful survival tactic: ‘we probably could not have evolved to this point by doing it very often.’


Panic is not a helpful reaction in a crisis. Instead, humans seem to be wired to work together to help ourselves and those close to us.

We see evidence of this all around. Since the pandemic was declared, there has been a rapid mobilisation of vast numbers of volunteer and community groups, which have sprung up almost overnight to support the health services and provide mutual aid to vulnerable members of our society. The numbers are staggering. On 22 March 2020, the day before the UK Government placed the country in lockdown, 1,000 volunteer groups had been set up, with tens of thousands of volunteers, to assist people during the pandemic.

What can we learn from this as project managers?


Posted by Matthew Moran on 29th Apr 2020

About the Author

I am Head of Transformation at The Open University and sometimes lecturer in the OU Business School, and I speak, write, consult and advise on strategy, project and product management, and organisational change.

Look out for Matthew’s article Collaboration in a crisis, published in the summer edition of Project journal – out June 2020.

This story originally appeared in the Spring issue of Project journalDownload the latest digital issue now.

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