Author: Emad Elias, MBA, PMP
This post is a part of a four part series on Confidence.
First of all, there could be a perception among many teams and organizations alike that losing is something that happens to them. We’ve established that winning is hard work. It is not easy or automatic. Losing, on the other hand, is a crossroads, not a cliff. It is characterized by increasingly ineffective behavior that results in people not collectively meeting their goals, i.e., the opposite of success or winning. Typically, it is not external factors that cause winning teams to begin losing. It is their own failure to engage in the disciplines and support systems that turned winning into a habit in the first place.
Many of us have been in an environment either as an employee or as a consultant where we’ve witnessed people retreating from an initiative. We’ve witnessed managers become less communicative around certain subjects; distancing themselves from a decision made by someone in another department or separate functional area. This often leads to duplication of effort as people say to themselves or even to their peers, “they’re going about this all wrong…we can do it right.” This uncoordinated action drives up costs, and begins to establish “turfs” thereby dividing otherwise capable and competent people into disparate and even competing groups. Focus on the problems that have the highest impact on a team or organization diminishes and what some may call the “Death Spiral” begins to occur. Territories begin to be established exemplified by, among other things, active ‘water cooler talk’ where people carefully consider which initiatives and groups to avoid, resulting in solutions not only being shot down but never being suggested in the first place.
Each one of us knows what it feels like to panic, whether it involves a personal worry that has escalated or overflowed into a more desperate feeing, or in the professional arena where one might make a decision out of fear or unwillingness to confront a problem. This feeling can be contagious on a team. In general, a pattern of panic or indecisiveness sets in such that bad decisions abound as pressure mounts to cloud peoples’ thinking. This is what losing looks like. Conversely, winners tend to persist through these tougher times when unexpected events occur.
Similar to the four levels of confidence offered by Kanter, she offers nine pathologies to losing behavior that often become chain reactive:
1. Communication decreases
2. Criticism and blame increase
3. Respect decreases
4. Isolation increases
5. Focus turns inward
6. Rifts widen
7. Initiative decreases
8. Aspirations diminish
9. Negativity spreads
So connecting Kanter’s principles of winning: initiative, collaboration, and accountability to a team’s capacity to win and perform, we see that denial, characterized by shifting blame, contributes heavily to a losing team’s performance, while a collective willingness to discuss and confront problems is the antidote to failure. Confidence within and among the team makes it possible to want to see near misses before they become failure, before they become a loss for the team.
To learn how to make turnarounds happen Read Part 3.