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By Johanne Bouchard EBS Business Columnist

Football season has begun, and while serving as a source of entertainment and friendly competition among fantasy players, the NFL serves as a metaphor for life and business.

When the Seattle Seahawks lost last season’s Super Bowl in the final minutes of the game, the team entered the offseason with an aura of disappointment that threatened their ability to rebound and succeed.

Rather than pushing through tensions simmering under the locker room’s surface, quarterback Russell Wilson took the team to Hawaii. Wilson gathered his teammates in a circle at a scenic overlook, and created a safe space in which everyone could air their grievances and speak their minds. Lines of communication were opened, or re-opened, and the benefit of expressing the frustration with failure allowed the team to emerge from the experience rededicated to unified play.

We’ll see how great an impact this bonding experience had as the season unfolds, but there’s definitely a lesson here for any “team” in the business world: Failing to meet expectations is possible with any chance you take, and the business world always presents elements of risk. It’s how you respond to less-than-ideal performance that defines your character and sets your trajectory going forward.

This scenario may sound familiar: Your sales team is unified in pitching a significant client. You’ve spent time, energy and money on presentations and in-person meetings; put together a contract that has attractive terms for the prospective client; and while the champagne chills … the client decides to “go another way.”

If the stakes are high enough, a situation like this can kill a company’s momentum. Members of the sales team might blame themselves or their peers for the deal’s failure. Some might blame management or the prospective client. Other departments might blame sales. Unless management leads an effective “debrief” after such an experience, the company could miss an opportunity to learn and become stronger from it.

I’m a firm believer in a business debriefing, introspection, reflection, and creating a trusted space for airing out feelings. I’ve often been referred to as a “business psychologist” who creates comfortable spaces for board members, leaders, entrepreneurs, and individuals to share their feelings in the interest of greater clarity, better focus, and a shared willingness to coalesce with a fresh perspective. Here’s what I recommend after taking a hit:

Celebrate the positives. Maybe it’s not yet time for a champagne toast, but any team that’s put everything into a project deserves to be recognized. Before dissecting what could have been better, make sure to acknowledge what was done well.

Create a safe environment. Maybe you won’t be flying the team to Hawaii for an important debrief, but having a catered lunch meeting facilitated by a trusted member of senior staff may be enough. Set some boundaries at the outset, like asking everyone to speak only about their own feelings and experiences without pointing fingers or placing blame, and encourage everyone to share positives as well as potential improvements. Everyone must have the opportunity to openly share.

Close the loop. Once everyone’s had a chance to review the experience, consider putting it in writing. Distribute to the team a written record of the things that deserve recognition and replication, and the insights you’ll be taking into the next experience.

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. Visit to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”

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