For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been on losing teams. My high school football team had 4 losing seasons. My company in Navy boot camp was last in the division. I’ve worked at companies that were financially struggling. While my business is doing well, I often have to work with losing teams in the business world.
You can learn a lot from being a loser. If you don’t, then there’s a good chance you’ll continue to lose. Since none of us can really afford to lose, maybe we can take some lessons from losing teams and do our best not to repeat them.
In my experience, losing teams share these common traits:
- They Expect to Lose. It doesn’t start out this way. Each season begins with hope. But, with one loss, disappointment sets in. Then after another a sense of apathy. Finally, after a few more, losing becomes an expectation.
My high school football team lost every first game of the season to the same school, Pacific Christian. They were a tough, but not an unbeatable school. Then we had several non-league games against some really hard teams. By the time we got to our league schedule, we expected losses. Unfortunately, league games essentially cleaned the slate since making the playoffs meant we only had to win league games. It rarely happened and most of us just phoned it in waiting for the season to mercifully end.
When you begin expecting to lose, you’ll never have enough motivation to try to pull out a win.
Solution? Make winning an expectation. Don’t get disappointed by a loss, get infuriated. Harness that energy to get a win next time.
- There is a Sense of Arrogance after a (Rare) Win. After losing, a win is amazing! Be careful though. If you don’t know how you got the win, you won’t know how to repeat it. Arrogance will replace preparation and you’ll lose again.
Back to high school football. In my senior year, we bounced back from our annual loss to Pacific Christian with wins in the next 2 games. We then played The Buckley School (a prestigious prep school in Sherman Oaks, CA where Michael Jackson’s daughter would eventually attend) and came within one holding penalty of beating them. That set us up for a big win against Grace Christian school and then a school that traveled down from the Central Valley to play us. We ended up beating them too. Then it was time for league. Our first opponent was Heritage Christian, a school that was smaller than ours and almost a sure win. On that Saturday night we had the JV team dress out which meant our sideline looked even larger and more intimidating. Somehow we managed to lose that game. The next week was a loss against a much tougher Capo Valley Christian followed up by the last league game (which was my last game ever) against Liberty Christian which we lost 22-0. None of us could believe it.
Fast forward just 18 months. I was in Navy basic training in San Diego. Our recruit company was a failure in every way, from academics to military drill. Finally we had our sports competition against the other companies in our division. We expected to do well here since many of our shipmates were athletic, and some pretty big. As we assembled our tug-o-war team, the anchor, a huge kid named Terry Whisenhunt commented that we should warm up by chaining up to a building and pulling it around the compound. We ended up losing EVERY athletic event that day. Which brought about behavior #1 above.
When you become arrogant, you don’t work on a winning formula to sustain wins.
Solution? Treat every win like a loss and dissect what happened. Repeat what works and ditch what doesn’t.
- There is Discord Among the Team’s Leaders. Losing tends to bring out tension and conflict between team leaders. By allowing this to be seen, you’re sending a really bad signal to your desperate team.
Shortly after our disappointing sports competition, one of our company commanders, Senior Chief Crabtree made drill a priority (his Navy rating was Musician so he know quite a bit about this stuff) and he worked us hard. He wasn’t a screamer like our other company commander, Chief David was so we all performed well for him. We actually started getting our act together.
Then one day Chief David addressed the entire company while Senior Chief Crabtree was gone. (Try to hear this in a hard Filipino accent):
“I know you mutta*&%$s love Senior Chief but I’ve been a company commander much longer. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Listen to me. Don’t listen to him anymore. We’ll gonna straighten you mutta*&^&%$s out!”
Now with the company divided, we continue to score low in every evolution until boot camp mercifully ended 5 weeks later.
Losing is the BEST time for the team leaders to come together. Blaming each other simply reinforces failure on top of the current level of failure.
Solution? You win together. You lose together. At least the leaders need to be united. If not, then things will continue to get worse.
- The Team’s Leaders Attempt Desperate Measures to Turn Things Around. Losing makes people desperate. Desperation makes people do dumb things that simply compound the pain of losing.
With my junior year football team hopelessly mired in a losing season, the coaches became desperate. The instructed us to run onto the field at the start of the game and they would throw a football onto mid field. We were, as a team, instructed to treat it like a fumble drill and all dogpile on top of each other to get it. Of course most of us were nursing injuries (losing at football is often a physical problem too) so this stunt resulted in a couple of players not being able to play that night. Two weeks later, our coach had one of his mentors, Coach DeWoody, a legend in small school tackle football in California, talk to us at halftime against Liberty Christian. His rant did nothing to inspire us. It was more like mass confusion in the middle of game where we were physically and strategically outmatched. As we headed back onto the field, I overhead Coach DeWoody tell our coach that we had already given up. He was correct.
Losing can only be fixed by figuring out the reason why and improving on it. By identifying the contributors to losing, only then can we turn it around. This is analysis, not pep talks. Desperation never works.
Solution? When you lose, become rational, not emotional. Emotion may produce short term energy but until the systems are correct, the losing will continue.
None of us want to be on a losing team. We may not be able to change it if we’re on one now but if you are leading or will lead a team, be sure NOT to fall into these 4 behavior patterns.