My daughter’s basketball team lost eight games in a row this season, which is quite a shift from last season when they came in second in the division championship. The main difference this year is they lost their star player. While it provided a great opportunity for the players to take a more active role in the game, it was a hard transition. They had to learn how to function as a team without their go-to player.
Despite week after week of losses, the girls went to every practice and every game, and they gave it their all. Over time, they got better, they became a much stronger team and, when they final won, the score was a decisive 32-17. They won the next game too, 22-18.
Watching them grow as a team and listening to their coach’s guidance provides some food for thought for teams off the court and in the workplace. As a leader or member of a team, consider this:
1. When you lose your star, you need to regroup and figure out who is literally going to carry the ball. In the next three years, the federal workforce will lose some of its star players as 31 percent of federal employees will be eligible to retire in 2017. My husband works at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and he tells me that many top-level managers have already retired and many more will retire at the end of this year, leaving a void as decades of institutional knowledge walk out the door. Look at your team and plan now for any possible losses – not just retirement but job changes, too, because star players often get recruited to join other teams.
2. When things get tough, pull the team together, not apart. Despite the repeated losses, no one blamed the coach and the coach didn’t blame the players. Instead they practiced passing the ball, rebounding the ball and bailing out players when they get in tough spots. When work gets tough, it is easy to point the finger at someone else. It’s much harder, but also much more useful, to find ways to work together to solve the problem and support each other.
3. Instead of tearing the team down, build it up. When a player did something good, the coach told them right there on the court during the game. When someone messed up, he didn’t harp on it. Instead, immediately after the game, he told them what might have worked better. No one wants to feel they aren’t measuring up, particularly when they are working hard, learning something new or accomplishing a task under a tight deadline. Focus on making positive change, not rehashing the negative.
4. Find a niche for everyone. Not everyone on the team is going to be a star. At least one of the girls on my daughter’s team had never seen a basketball game played until she was actually playing the game. Rather than just tell her to stay out the way, the coach found ways to make her a valuable player by teaching her simple plays like how to pass the ball. Don’t just work around an underperforming team member, find a role for them and show them how they can add value. They will feel better about their work and so will the rest of the team.