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Average reading time: 3 minutes 50 seconds

“The only thing I am worried about now is having a few beers, and that’s the only thing we will worry about.”

Eddie Jones, England Rugby Union Coach

Those were the words of the England Rugby Coach, Eddie Jones, immediately after losing to South Africa by 32 points to 12 in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final. And they provide a number of fascinating learning points about celebration and consolation for those of us aspiring to lead high-performing business teams.

My experience over the past 20 years has highlighted the fact that celebration tends to be fairly black and white in business.

Let me explain…

If our teams hit or exceed their targets we have a big celebration event together and revel in the glory of our success. And so we should; because we know that success builds success.

The missing piece of the performance puzzle, however, is to review and analyse that success. It may be the case that there are very specific things that you can repeat and optimize in order to replicate that success over and over again.

But equally, deconstructing our most recent win might highlight the fact that we were just lucky. Analysis might show that despite ‘winning’, our performance was pretty average. Maybe market conditions were in our favour, the team were in the right place at the right time and our competitors just happened to bring their ‘C game’ on that particular day.

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

 Wilma Rudolph, US Sprinter

Which brings us to losing.

Just as we can perform poorly and win if luck is on our side, we can perform brilliantly well but not get the result we hoped for. And in these circumstances the natural reaction is to cancel the team dinner.

We lost. So why should we get together and celebrate? As the leader of the team I certainly don’t want to encourage us to sit around licking our collective wounds in a mood of despondency and self-pity.

But defeats and missing our targets hurt. Crushing defeats hurt even more and can shake teams to their very core. Some teams never recover from this.

So, getting together as a team is exactly what we should do. Especially when your team has given their all and still come up short.

It is in these moments that the best leaders go about galvanising those they lead into a great team. They bring the team together and recognise the contribution that every individual has made and respond to every member of the team in an individual way.

Some may need a hug, and some may need a smile. Some may need a joke, a light touch on the arm, a quiet word in their ear or even some public recognition. A big speech is rarely what a team requires after a set-back.

Once this is done, the team can then get on with analysing their collective performance so that they can be even better next time.

Which brings us back to the England Rugby team. Here’s some more of what Eddie Jones said following England’s defeat:

“The players prepared tremendously well for this World Cup. I thought they played with a lot of pride and passion, and we got caught short today.

“These things happen, but we can’t doubt the effort of the players. I thought they were extraordinary.”

When our teams win, it’s essential that we celebrate and analyse the success.

And when our teams lose, it’s essential that we seek comfort from each other before learning the lessons that will help us be successful in the future. Especially when they played with pride and passion, and especially when you can’t doubt their effort.

To summarise, take the four combinations of preparedness and luck below:

  1. We prepared well and things went our way – we were well prepared and lucky.
  2. We prepared well and things didn’t go our way – we were well prepared and unlucky.
  3. We didn’t prepare well and things still went our way – we were just lucky.
  4. We didn’t prepare well and things didn’t go our way – we got the result we deserved.

Options one and three both represent a win but tell a very different story. Options two and four also tell very different stories.

My hopes for you having read this article are as follows:

  1. Strive for option one… and know that option two will happen.
  2. Celebrate and analyse your wins.
  3. Come together as a team when you lose.
  4. Analyse your losses, so that you are preparing well for more option ones (or twos).


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