How to Lose Well at the End of a Winning Streak

Every association is bound to face failure at some point, but how team leaders respond to that loss could be key to ensuring future success. Jamie Notter, consultant and founding partner of WorkXO, shares advice for organizations and managers.

A last-second shot by a Mississippi State player in overtime of the Women’s Final Four ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak.

But head coach Geno Auriemma took the loss in stride, saying Mississippi State earned the win.

“Look, nobody’s won more than we’ve won,” he said following the game, according to the Hartford Courant. “I understand losing, believe it or not. We haven’t lost in a while, but I understand it. I know how to appreciate when other people win.”

Not every team leader would take a high-profile loss so graciously, but doing so could be the key to encouraging a team toward future success. Jamie Notter, consultant and founding partner of WorkXO, offered advice for association managers operating in the face of failure.

It starts with a transparent organizational culture where managers and employees can share what they think and observe, ensuring problems leading to failure are addressed or a failure is discussed in order to pursue future success.

When managers withhold management-level talks from their staff or team members can’t point out problems, the culture is replaced by one that fails to confront failure. “That’s when it becomes a big shock when [managers] need to talk about the bad news,” Notter said. “And they should be building a culture where that news is a part of every day, and you deal with it.”

In addition, organizations need to foster a clear understanding of its capabilities in order to set realistic goals, making failure less likely. By focusing on a group’s capabilities, leaders can also accurately identify the problem when something does go wrong.

Because, no matter how long the winning streak, something will eventually go wrong. And when a team doesn’t meet its goals, managers need to lead their team toward identifying the issue, instead of blindly blaming the failure on people or processes.

“Anytime you’re headed toward this big goal, and you’re not going to get there, the first question can’t be, ‘Who screwed up?’” Notter said. “It’s got to be, ‘What are we going to learning from this? What’s the piece that this is going to tell us that we didn’t know before?’ And that at least gets more people engaged rather than afraid.”

This is best done best by holding a discussion where managers ask team members about their experience and what they think the team could do better next time. Then, to prevent future failure, teams need to establish and measure predicative metrics throughout a project, not just end results.

Going back to basketball, teams don’t wait until the final score to say they’ve lost. No, they check the score throughout the game, while coaches analyze shots and stats to see what their team could be doing better to get back in the game. “You’ve got the … process that says we’ve been going to the middle all the time and we’re losing, so maybe we need to try a new strategy,” Notter said.

Those metrics then lead to candid conversations between managers and teams, which help right processes in the face of impending failure.

“The hard truth comes up long before the big failure, so there’s lots of opportunities to speak hard truth,” Notter said. “And if we don’t do that when the big failure comes, that conversation’s going to end up being derailed as well. But if we spoke the hard truth and then had the failure, I think you’re better off.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma. (aaronisnotcool/Flickr)

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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