Failure is a bit of a “dirty” word and is often associated with negativity, especially in the workplace. But failure is essential to workplace success and your teams may well benefit from the feedback of perceived “failure”. In this blog post, you’ll discover how your teams can learn more from failure and become more innovative.
Merriam Webster defines failure as:
fail·ure | \ ˈfāl-yər \
1a: omission of occurrence or performance specifically: a failing to perform a duty or expected action
b(1): a state of inability to perform a normal function
Rather than being a negative thing, this perceived barrier and gap in knowledge identified by failure is, in fact, a fantastic opportunity for growth.
You may have noticed the concept of “grit” cropping up in recent years. In fact, in 2015 the UK education secretary announced that rugby coaches will be brought in to schools as a push to develop “grit” in pupils. Why would you want to want to develop grit in your teams and what has this got to do with failure?
“Grit is the passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve this mission.”
Angela Duckworth, TED Talk: Why Grit Matters More Than IQ
Well, that sounds exactly what a team of self-leaders working for an organisation with big goals like yours needs, doesn’t it?
Failure presents us with a choice; try again or give up. Trying again forces us to ask vital questions; to deconstruct the process and tweak what went before so that we can make a future successful attempt. In a lot of ways failure tells us far more than success does, because when we succeed, we often forget to seek feedback.
It is only when things go wrong that we start to pay attention. If things go as we expect, we simply tick that thing off the list and quickly move on to the next challenge – often forgetting to ask ourselves the key questions that would lead to even better results the next time:
Failure can teach your people both about their personal response to challenges and how to more effectively carry out an activity. Understanding how your teams answer questions about challenges and perceived failures is key to developing powerful self-leaders:
Failure is a great opportunity to learn. So, with that in mind, you need to create space for supportive situations where your teams can come face to face with challenges, struggles and failures, without fear of negative consequences.
One of the activities The Self Leadership Initiative often uses to demonstrate this is something uninspiringly named “the string game”. Participants begin the activity tangled up in string and are asked to work out how to get untangled. After 1-3 failed attempts, the frustration and temptation to give up kick in. This is when it becomes a key learning opportunity.
Although the failure situation can be stressful and irritating, feedback from participants often highlights how much people can learn about themselves from supportive failing environments. By fully observing what they do in a challenging situation, your people can develop the ability to make conscious decisions about how to proceed in future and what to build upon.
The idea of planning for challenges needs to be treated holistically, looking at a range of psychical, emotional, social, intellectual and even moral or spiritual contexts. You may be interested in having some initial conversations with your teams to explore how they currently experience failure, so here are a few prompts for you to get started:
Failure teaches your people how to pull from their own inner well of resilience, that risk leads to innovation and is an opportunity for learning and growth. When your team members have the determination and perseverance to stick with a goal, despite the tough times, they are more likely to succeed. Being able to cope with failures along the way and appreciate that failure is not final is an essential quality of innovation.
Need help in creating supportive failing environments for your teams to grow? The Self Leadership Initiative can help by facilitating bespoke training and workshops. You have a big mission to achieve and a team of powerful self-leaders with grit and resilience could make all the difference to achieving that impact. Book a discovery call today to take the first step.