Leading from Failure to Success

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Turning around a losing team isn’t easy, but it is possible. These 10 tips can help.

Everyone wants a winning team. The truth is, however, that some teams — whether in sports or in business — continually suffer the agony of defeat without ever experiencing the thrill of victory (think Chicago Cubs).

If you’re leading a team that’s never known success, how can you turn that entrenched losing streak into a winning season? In their book, “Team Turnarounds: A Playbook for Transforming Underperforming Teams” (Jossey-Bass), authors Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl offer advice on how to lead and transform an uninspired team into a winning team that knows the unadulterated joy of success.

Not surprisingly, the book draws on examples from professional sports as its primary model for motivation and for creating incremental changes in behavior. Much like a coach inspires average athletes to out-work and out-play the competition, managers need to find ways to help and encourage employees to recondition and strengthen both their mindset and their work ethic.

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Change of this magnitude won’t happen overnight, so consider it a work-in-progress. These tips from the book should help get you and your team back on the field and back in the game.

1. What you focus on expands, so stop that loser mindset right in its tracks. The more your team worries about losing, the more likely they are to lose.

2. Face facts and assess the failures—including individual and team performance—honestly. Glossing over what went wrong or discussing events in general terms doesn’t work, and it won’t help your people learn from their mistakes.

3. Clearly define team roles, and make sure individuals know what tasks and goals they own. Setting up clear accountability cultivates a self-policing ethic within the workplace.

4. Encourage your employees to suggest ways to improve processes. Giving them a voice in solving the problems ensures they’ll work harder to succeed.

5. Expect and encourage your team to be excellent. Demonstrate a commitment to quality by paying attention to details: deal with customers professionally, respond to concerns in a timely manner, and eliminate spelling and grammar errors in all business documents.

6. Establish definitive expectations for continued growth over time. These goals need to be explicit and measurable in order to help your team members focus and take action.

7. It may sound cheesy, but create a list of core values, e.g., we are customer-focused. This not only sets clear guidelines, but it helps teams derive tangible results, e.g., responding to all help desk requests in the same work day.

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8. Emphasize your team values by posting them everywhere: your email signature, on bulletin boards, even in department proposals and memos.

9. Lead by example isn’t just a catchy phrase; it actually works. Your employees will be watching you and be influenced by the way you treat customers and co-workers, by the way you react to pressure, and whether or not you meet deadlines.

10. Celebrate every team success (yes, it will come). Celebrating tells your team that you believe in their ability to overcome adversity.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of Small Business Computing. Follow Lauren on Twitter.

Adapted from Ten Ways to Turn Around a Losing Team, by Dennis McCafferty at CIO Insight.  Follow CIO Insight on Twitter.

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