Black Caps Blues: 5 Ways to Help Your Team Bounce Back after a Major Setback

The dust has settled on the Cricket World Cup final. The game has been debated and dissected. Our hearts have bled with the Black Caps and the tears have flowed.

For the Black Caps, the focus will undoubtedly now be on how they can pick themselves up and move forward from such an agonising result.

No one likes to fail. Especially when it’s in such a heart-breaking manner as the Black Caps did in the World Cup Final – that makes it all the more difficult to bear.

Yet we all know there can be success after setback. New Zealand’s recent Netball World Cup win proves just that. Coach Noeline Taurua brought the Silver Ferns back from their disarray a year ago to an incredible victory. It shows the value of great leadership, and a recovery strategy based on development, not despair.

So, let’s not forget the importance of resilience and learning from failures. Whether it’s a project that didn’t meet its targets, a major pitch you didn’t win, or the loss of a big client – helping your team recover from sizeable setbacks is something you’ll need to learn to navigate as a leader.

How can you help your team recover?

Helping an individual recover from setback is one thing. Leading a team through this process is often even more challenging. The impact is magnified and confounded because there are multiple individuals and team dynamics at play.

As Susan David, a founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching and author of the HBR article Emotional Agility says:

“It’s often harder to lead a team past a failure than it is to help one person. People are coming into projects with different expectations, perspectives, levels of investment, and different things at stake. Some people may be very resilient and others might feel more bruised”

Regardless of the reasons for the big blow, it’s your job as your team’s manager to help them learn from it and move on. Part of this is helping them see the experience as an opportunity for growth, instead of it being the end of the world.

So here are a few tips from The Leader’s Digest on how to do just that:

  1. Manage Yourself First

First things first, before you turn your attention to your team’s reactions and emotions, get in touch and in control of your own. Accomplished leaders are emotionally intelligent. This means understanding your reaction to the debacle, processing your emotions and managing them, rather than letting them manage you. This is important, as a leader’s emotions are way more contagious than others within the team. Your team will look to you and take your lead on how you respond to the setback. So consider this before you fly off the handle, declare doomsday or crumple into wracking sobs in front of them. Steps to process and manage your emotions might include:

  • Talking it through with your executive coach, boss or trusted mentor.
  • Asking yourself “how can I lead in a way that I will be proud of?”, “What are my ‘watch outs’ – in other words, my unhelpful behaviours I can exhibit when I’m under stress?” or, “What can I do to avoid this behaviour in these situations?”
  • Be authentic in your reaction. It’s ok (and even preferable) to share your disappointment with the group, but don’t let your emotions to rule your response.
  1. Promote Honest Emotions and Discussion

Allow, don’t suppress, the emotions and reactions of the team to the major setback. Create space within a group setting for their reactions to be shared in an appropriate manner. One trap I’ve seen leaders fall into is to try to circumvent or suppress any feelings within the team of anger, sadness or guilt. Don’t try to skip ahead or deflect this stage by saying things like “look on the bright side” or “it’s not that bad” or “no use crying over spilt milk,”. This can leave the team feeling unheard – or emotions unprocessed. In fact, negative or neutral emotions are conducive to deductive reasoning, which means they can help your team better process and analyse the failure or setback. One way to do this is to facilitate a group discussion and ask about people’s responses to the setback and how it is affecting each person. Don’t try to fix or gloss over their feelings, but rather use paraphrasing and active listening instead. By acknowledging their emotions, you ensure there’s been some learning or connection achieved. Comments like “We are feeling pretty gutted about this and that’s ok. I am too” or “This is tough for us” are more useful, because they help facilitate a critical view of the situation.

  1. Tell a Story to Create Meaning

Use metaphor, stories or other teams’ similar setbacks to give meaning to the situation. This can help the team understand the bigger picture. It can be reassuring to know of similar times in history when teams have faced and successfully overcome adversity. You could look at the 2007 All Blacks World Cup game against France or the Black Caps right now. You could even use nature, Greek or indigenous Myths, or The Heroes’ Journey to create meaning or a metaphor.  But you know what is most powerful? Your own experiences. Even consider asking others in the team to share their own examples of when they’ve recovered from setbacks.

  1. Face Reality

It’s important to allow space for people to feel ‘the down in the dumps feels’, but don’t let them stay there. Facing reality and reviewing learnings is the next key step. Don’t gloss over, sugar coat or corporate speak what happened. If there was failure on the team’s part, it’s important to name this in plain English. Use the setback to review and learn.

(Note: if there are individual responsibilities that need addressing, do this in private and only dissect the group learnings in a group setting. Aim to create learning without the blame.)

Strategic, open-minded thought and discussion on how you’ll avoid similar mistakes in the future is always the way to go. Questions such as these can help facilitate this:

  • “What have we learnt? What are our insights?”
  • “If we had to do a do-over, what would we do differently?”
  • “What would we do the same?”
  • “If this was happening to a team of colleagues, what advice would we give to them now?”
  • “As a result of our learning, who is going to do what by when moving forward?”
  • “What do we each need in order to process and move forward from this?” (Note: this is likely to be different for each member).
  1. Offer Beneficial Feedback

Provide valuable and positive feedback to the team. Despite their loss, the Black Caps should both feel proud and be recognised for how well they performed. Your team is no different. Find real, genuine reasons to praise the team for where they did well. Be specific in your praise. Check out this former blog on the SBI model for tips on giving feedback and how to use the model.

While we can only hope the Black Caps prepping hard for the next world cup (Bring on 2023!), let’s not get complacent with our own teams. While failure is never fun, don’t let it also be a wasted opportunity for growth, learning, and above all else, success for the future.

1 Comment

  1. Christine Gladstone on July 26, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    Right on Suzi!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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