When you swing and miss in business, you have more to worry about than how you personally are affected. It's likely your team did more hands-on work to achieve the goal than you did, so you need to make the right moves to keep morale from sinking. In a Harvard Business Review article, experts offer their advice on how to get past the defeat.
Give the team time to mourn.
It's important to let the team go through the natural cycle of emotions. Susan David, a founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching, tells HBR you shouldn't be a jolly "beacon of positivity" before the team is ready to get back to their normal levels of energy. Let the team feel their "disappointment and negative feelings" right after the loss, David says. Be sensitive, give them space and time, and then get back on the horse.
Get over it, fast.
According to research from the College of Business Administration at California State University, Long Beach, the leader's emotional state is highly contagious. To jump-start the team's healing process, you need to get out of your funk and avoid being negative. Just be sure that your demeanor is genuine, David says. "You don't want to suppress your emotions, [but] you don't want to get stuck in a moody, negative space either."
Tell them what went wrong.
This is the stage where you shouldn't hold back. Tell the team exactly what happened and why. Don't use corporate jargon or oblique language. Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and the author of The Blame Game, says you should focus on the facts. Don't say "Let's look on the bright side," "We're lucky it happened this way," "We suboptimized," or "A mistake was made." Instead, he suggests, be clear and specific: "We missed the deadline because we didn't take into account how long each task would take." This isn't a license to demoralize your team; it's an opportunity to be frank and honest about what went wrong and how you can avoid it next time.
Don't blame individuals.
If one or two people are to blame, don't call them out during a meeting. Take the individuals aside first and talk to them about their actions, not their character. "It's more important to focus on what's to blame, rather than who is to blame," Dattner says. Change the mood. "The mutual commiserating and examination of what went wrong is useful only up to a point," David tells HBR. Once the mourning time has passed, shift the mood to a more positive and forward-thinking state of mind. Dattner says your tone and energy should be mixed with light humor. Call a meeting and get people excited for the future, rather than dwelling on the past.
Tie it up with an anecdote.
After the failure and the negative emotions are behind everyone, you should tell the team about a past setback you had professionally. "It can be very powerful when a leader authentically shares a time when they have a crucible-type failure that became a stepping stone in their career," David says. If your team needs to bond more, ask them if someone wants to share a failure-to-prosperity story of their own. Everyone has felt the bottom, but not everyone gets up. Help your employees inspire each other and start collaborating again.