Triage, Transition, Transformation

By Jane H. Adams | Posted on May 14, 2020

Triage Transition Transformation blog 410

Three words. Each has a different impact. Each is caused by an action and a reaction. A blog post from the Human Workplace, Staying on Top of Culture, by Jamie Notter, used these three words: Triage, Transition and Transformation. This post has stuck with me as I believe these three words can provide a framework as we navigate this world in the midst of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.


Triage is a medical term used in battle or a disaster to quickly assess a person’s condition in order to make decisions on their treatment. We are in this stage now — deciding immediately what is most important and what can wait. Decisions are made and then changed due to new information emerging or a change in conditions, and we are gathering new information and sharing it as we receive it. In the park and recreation world, this looks like facilities and parking lots being closed, basketball hoops removed and play equipment roped off to help slow community spread of the virus through physical distancing measures.

Although we are taking necessary steps to help slow the spread, most of us never imagined a global pandemic of this scale, and so there is a lack of best practices and evidence-based guidance readily available. Much of our decision-making is happening so quickly that it is difficult to assess the impact and staying power of these decisions.


Transition signifies movement from one stage to another. Information gathered in the triage stage can be used here. There is a stabilization of sorts in this stage, but decisions can, and likely will be changed as the situation continues to evolve. In a rapidly changing crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, your “plan” from a week ago (i.e., face masks) may now be more important, less important or even dropped from consideration.

This stage can take a while — a long while. Practicing patience, empathy, and communication will be key. It will act like quicksand, but by working together and doing our part, we will find a way.


Transformation is a change in form, appearance, nature or character. This is when the egg becomes a butterfly as it transforms into a larva, then to a pupa and finally into a butterfly. There are no frog leaps forward. In transformation, we will build more permanent systems and processes and accept the new “normal.” We are NOT in the transformation stage now, and to think that we are is a mistake. This stage can take months, or even years, but it is where the potential for best practices can emerge as they have been tested during the triage and transition stages. Transformation provides us with an opportunity to refine our strategic focus areas, change practices and policies, and ensure preparedness for the future.

I now have a framework

These three words give me a “framework” to help navigate the COVID 19 pandemic. Many of us are in the triage stage; maybe beginning to move into the transition stage. As I previously mentioned, we are NOT in the transformation stage yet – we are not in the “new normal” - and to think that we are is a big mistake.

As an example, with many states re-opening certain sectors and loosening mitigation measures at a rapid pace, public health experts are warning that we may see an increase in transmission which could send us back to the triage stage. We may go into triage many times before we are through the transition stage and into transformation. Of course, everyone wants to move through triage quickly — it’s our nature to address problems quickly so we can move on to the next, but COVID-19 is deadly, and we must acknowledge it as such.

Different stages/different skills

In looking at these three stages, I believe different skills will take precedence over others. In triage, decision-making skills will prevail. How do YOU make decisions? If you are a consensus leader, it may be challenging to get the team to agree on a decision. You may need to make decisions independent of your team. That may confuse or anger them.

In transition, your planning skills will be front and center. Your ability to see all the issues around a decision will be critical. Your ability to adapt, change course, and practice patience will be key. 

In transformation, your visioning skills will be needed in order to see the bigger picture.

Two paramount skills, regardless of the stage, are effective communication and the ability to demonstrate empathy. In each stage, communicate often, in a variety of ways, and make sure your message reaches all. Welcome the feedback and thoughts of others and encourage vulnerability – it is essential to understand all sides of the equation and diverse perspectives. Practicing these skills will reduce the fear and anxiety your co-workers and community members are feeling.

How to use triage, transition and transformation

Share these three words with your staff and discuss each of them. Ask them to describe what each word means to them. Look for examples of your triage efforts, your tentative transition plans and your hopes for transformation. Be honest that these stages are fluid — it may be one step forward and three steps back. Help those employees who demand answers or get upset when plans change. Focus on their needs in each of these stages.

The public is clamoring for away-from-home experiences, parents want a break from their kids, kids want a break from their parents, and we feel isolated and overwhelmed. We want to return to “normal,” but we must recognize we need to move through the stages of triage, transition and transformation before we get there.

Share your reaction

I am curious if this blog helps you work through the challenge of COVID 19. Please comment on the blog, contact me directly or connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to do a follow-up blog and your feedback will make it useful.

For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.

Jane H. Adams is the Executive Director of the American Academy for Park & Recreation Administration.