3 POSITIVES from giving your team a safe space to mess up
Recently, a candidate we were interviewing for position within our team asked "Is this a safe place to fail?" It was a very direct and astute question, one that personally I really appreciated. Not only did it speak to the individual's desire to bring their creative aptitudes to the team--they recognized that attempts at creativity don't always produce the results that are hoped.
The exchange left me wodering if leaders understand how important it is to create safe spaces for team members to not only try but also fail at new ideas. The reality is that when this is not a part of a culture, it always cost the team in moral as well as potential growth.
Not at all young man. We have just spent a couple million dollars educating you.
There is a story about IBM CEO Tom Watson's interaction with a junior executive whose wrong decision resulted in the company's loss of several million dollars. As the employee stood in front of Mr. Watson, accepting responsibility for his decision and acknowledging that he would need to be fired, he was stunned by his boss' response.
"Not at all young man. We have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you."
Far from the norm is a culture within companies or teams that encourages members to dream. Too often environments are void of the sense of safety that precludes the trying of new things because a fear of reprimand. And when given the choice between security and creativity, most people will chose the former--especially if they enjoy living and eating in doors.
However leaders that stand watch over this guarded culture, are paying a tax they probably don't realize. The cost is that their team will never improve, grow in effectiveness or accomplish new achievements than what is already being done. If anything, experience shows that numbers usually will move in the wrong direction.
When 'playing it safe so you don't mess up' is the cultural foundation of a team the goal for team members becomes simply to not get noticed. Because when you get noticed, it usually produces negative results.
Yet in companies like IBM and others--having a safe space for team members to attempt new ideas without fear of retributive action has been the ground work for their constant growth and domination of their respective markets.
Taking from their example, Red Chair Leaders embrace moments of failed attemps, because they know that a team that won't take risks always costs more in the long run.
Below, we list 3 Positive Outcomes That Can Happen When Teams Have the Freedom to Fail.
Red Chair Leaders embrace moments of failed attemps because they know that a team that won't take risks always costs more in the long run.
1. Failures Reveal Opportunities for Excellence
Excellence should rarely (some would argue never) be compromised. Failure that comes from under performance or lack of dedication wears out the fabric of an organization's identity. However, failing to hit a goal or mark because of attempting something that was untried or untested is often the gateway for discovering new ways for attaining levels of excellence the were previously untapped.
For example, a yearly event team may decide to attempt the migration to online or app-based registration, only to discover that the generic, third-party app created more chaos than clarity. However, in the process of seeing the scale and opportunities that could be leveraged through a digital platform--the team decides to contract and develop a personalized app that can be launched by the following year.
2. Failures Give Way to Better Ideas
Not all ideas work the way they were intended. In fact sometimes they can have the opposite effect. But it is in the attempting of ideas that better ideas are birthed and refined.
A local orgainzation wants to create stronger community by organizing an outreach effort to a nearby under resourced neighborhood. The thought is that by mobilzing team members that will volunteer with small house or yard projects-- relational bridges will be built. The results were the oposite. The offer to help was not received well because the neighbors felt like projects rather than people. Rather than deciding not do attempt any more outreach efforts, the team analyzed their 'failure' and realized the miss was in a "doing for" rather than a "doing with" approach.
In their next attempt, the team organized and invited their neighbors to a cookout and ice cream party, where everyone was encourged to bring something to share. The end result was new friends were made over shared food, fun and experience.
3. Failures Create Trust (When Not Punished)
Being given the opportunity to risk and miss is not just good for the team member daring to dream, it is good for those who are observing too. The effect is exponential when others witness how a team member who took a shot that missed completely--yet the leaders used it as a teaching, equipping, developing and ultimately encouraging moment.
Its not that team members need to see those who've failed get patted on the head and told "it's ok, don't worry about it." Rather, when a leader recognizes the value of a failure as an opportunity to make the team better, members get to be standing close enough to hear questions like "Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?"
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
Imagine the effect it must have had at IBM as the junior executive walked back through the doors of his office suite and told his colleagues that he wasn't fired, that the company had just invested millions of dollars to make him a better leader. Its a safe bet that his coworkers were empowered to take risks too, knowing they were working for a company that wanted to see them succeed as leaders as well!
At Red Chair Leaders we believe whole-heartily in a team based leadership model. For more information about how to inject more team based leadership into your organization, visit RedChairLeadership.com.
“My team leader only cares whether I show up to get my job done or not.”
The hurt hung on more than just their words, I could see it in their eyes as they told me why had stepped away from a team that had been working with for years. Though they had recently gone through a grueling series of health and financial challenges, exhaustion was not what had led them to step off the team that had previously been a source of energy and purpose--apathy was.
The team member went on to tell me that throughout the months of difficulty, their team leader had not reached out once to check in on them or offer any kind of support. In fact the only time the leader did contact them was when the team member declined to cover an extra ‘shift.’ And then the conversation was only to guilt trip them for not being a ‘go-to’ member of the team.
Ultimately, failing to show care is failing to lead.
Now, I realize that this is just one side of a two-sided situation and in fairness I haven’t talked to the team leader to get his or her perspective. I am confident that if I did, there would be points of this conflict that were left out. But what is both obvious and undeniable is that an environment within a team had gotten to the point where a team member concluded that their leader did not care about what was going on in their life, only whether or not the job was getting done. And ultimately, failing to show care is failing to lead.
Now before you throw labels like ‘snowflake’ in my direction, let me explain.
The people we lead do not set aside the other facets of their lives when they ‘clock in’ any more than you and I do. In fact, you can probably easily think of a day or week, where something happening beyond your job effected the quality of your work, either positively or negatively. As hard as we try to compartmentalize, life areas touch and effect other areas. The same is true for our team members.
So, what do we do? Do we have to tip-toe, placate, and hand-hold every team member every time difficulty hits their personal life? The answer is No. However, how we treat and acknowledge them and their life beyond their job will go a long way to helping them be able to navigate it and keep them as healthy members of the team. Here are 3 ways you can show your team members that you really care about who they are, not just what they do.
1. Listen Up
Be listening for points of interest, hobbies, or pass times they have beyond work that you do NOT have in common. We tend to connect with people over shared experiences (enjoying the same music genre, following the same sports teams, etc) and avoid topics that don’t interests us. However, the struggle is that the conversation can subtly become about us instead of focused on them. “ Oh, yeah... I remember the first professional baseball game I went to...” While those conversation can help bond, if point is to show them then pick a to topic that only interests them. In doing so you are sending a message that screams “I care about this because you do, and I care about you.”
I have a team member who loves to jam... as in make jam. Its a huge family ordeal that happens every year in the fall. They have named it, maybe even had t-shirts made. I know about it because it requires them to take time off to be out of town for this extravaganza. I should point out that I know nothing about jam except how to spread it on things. But through several conversations, my team member has explained the delicacies of the process with joy in her eyes. I listen not because I am contemplating taking on a new hobby, but rather to communicate “You matter and this matters to you...so I am listening.”
2. Learn Up
As a leader you need to not only know what your team member cares about, you need to be constantly getting to know WHO they care about too. Whether it is their partners, their kids, parents or pets— 99.999% of our people have other ‘people’ outside of the context we know them in... and those relationships are extremely important. Knowing who those people are and being able to inquire about current events, reinforces that you are aware of what and who is important to them. Asking about their husband’s job, their wife’s parents, their child’s college status, even their dog’s anxiety medication sends a powerful message that “I care about you.”
3. Show Up
In times of significant crisis—You need to be there. (We are talking more than their favorite show being taken off Netflix).This one is admittedly the hardest and for two reasons. First, It requires that you already have some kind of positive report with your team members beyond work in order for you to even be made aware (which is why #1 & #2 are so vital). Secondly, these crisis, by definition, rarely happen at a good time—for your team member or for you. But I cannot stress how loud the “I care” statement can be by simply showing your face and asking if there is anything you can do.
It was after 10 PM one night when I received a text that one of my team members was being taken to the hospital by ambulance with extreme abdominal pain. This was a team member of mine and they were walking into a moment of uncertainty, not know if this was going to be serious or not, so meeting them at the hospital wasn’t even a question—it was the only response. As luck would have it, I beat the ambulance there so I met them at on the sidewalk. Happily while the situation required surgery, it was non-emergent and routine. I didn’t do much, except pray and offer to get coffee and food for my team member’s family while they waited. However years later, that team member will share how seeing my face when the ambulance doors opened made an impact on them and let them know their team cared about them... as a person.
At Red Chair Leaders we believe that they answer to these (and other) leadership pain points is a team based model. For more information about how to inject team based leadership into your organization, visit RedChairLeadership.com.
Recently, I had the awesome experience of being asked to be a guest blogger for Encompass Connection Center; a great organization that specializes in building better connections with the people we live, work and play with. Here is what I wrote...
“Jeremy, asking questions makes you look smart!”
I can hear those words ringing in my ears like they were said yesterday, not the twenty years ago when my dad said them to me.
He was gently yet firmly challenging a blindspot that was cropping up in my leadership abilities. I was under the impression that to be the leader on a team or in an organization meant you had knew better than everyone else what needed to be done and how. At that point in my youth, I was carrying myself like I was the smartest guy in any room I walked into. When presented with a problem, the absolute worst thing I could imagine saying in response was “I don’t know.” So, instead of digging into and learning about what was going on, I would make something up. Even if it was wrong. Because leaders are supposed to know things. After all, that was why you are the leader, right?
Do you work with a leader like that? Are you that leader?
But over the years, I have come to see the wisdom in what my father shared with me that day. By asking questions, not only does it make you look wiser as a leader (because you aren’t doubling down on something you probably made up on the spot), but it also is an effective tool for discovering and deploying the leadership abilities in those you are trying to lead. Asking questions as become my default position for any leadership situation in which I find myself in.
Here are 3 Questions that will make you look like a Great Leader when you ask them
1. What do you think we should do?
I find that the people I have the privilege of working with are talented and passionate people in their area. Chances are the people you work with are too, that is why they are doing what they do. But too often, they have had their leadership abilities shut down or shut off by leaders who also wanted to be the “smartest person in the room.’ By asking your team what they think needs to be done you are investing value on them as part of the team and you are recognizing the relevance of their experience. I find that, more often then not, the solution they offer is exactly what needs to be implemented. Sometimes, its even better then the idea I was going to throw out.
2. What are other teams like ours doing?
Recently Rick Warren, (best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life) gave a TEDx Talk called “How to Stay Relevant.” In it he said “When the speed of change around an organization is faster than the speed of the change inside the organization, the organization becomes irrelevant.” As a leader, it is not our role to come up with the next good idea—it's to make sure ours is a space where great ideas happen. Asking your team to think outside the ‘four walls’ of your organization is, in fact, a way to give them permission to change, to stay current and to be better at what they do.
3. What would it look like if we were wildly successful?
On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy informed Congress that America would put a man on the surface of the moon within the next nine years. It was an almost ludicrous thing to say, because our space program could barely do more than find the moon at night, let alone be able to land someone on it. Yet, it lit the nation on fire. And just as Kennedy had promised, nine years later Neil Armstrong stood on the lunar edge of the Sea of Tranquility. This proves what can be unleashed within the human spirit when a leader paints for them a picture of something great to be chased after. Getting your team to think about being wildly successful inspires them.
So, take your team members to the next level by asking questions that empower and inspire them. You really don't have all the answers; but you can ask the right questions!
For more information on how you can increase the leadership
in your teams, visit www.redchairleader.com
And why you should join them in doing so...
Often, when I speak or write on leadership, I do so from a perspective of what I’ve learned or observed as one leading others. This blog, however, comes from a unique experience where I was the beneficiary of the effectiveness of good leadership.
Several months ago, my boss approached me and a coworker asking if the two of us, along with our wives, would be interested in joining him and his wife for a conference on the west coast. Furthermore, he explained that the cost would be covered for all of us!
We took some time to think about it…and 30 seconds later all four of us had readily agreed to go!
We spent several days in sunny California, attending main and breakout sessions, as well as doing some hiking, eating delicious food, and having great talks while exploring the Napa Valley. On our way home I was struck by the rich effect this time together had on me. I could feel the connection of relationship getting stronger; not only with the people I work with—but also with their family members.
Shared Experiences are a key ingredient in cultivating and maintaining healthy teams...
A Shared Experience is a moment, activity, encounter or event that is extra-ordinary in nature and for the sole purpose of being experienced with other members of the team.
I want to suggest THREE positive results that Shared Experiences can have on your team. But first, lets clear up two common misunderstandings about shared experiences that, left un-addressed, will detract from the desired effectiveness.
For starters, extra-ordinary doesn’t have to be extraordinary. These moments designed to help your team share life together do not have to be tremendous trips or extravagant endeavors. Granted trips to California are fantastic, especially when you live and work in the midwest, but trips to get ice cream can be just as sweet (pun intended). In fact, I have talked to people who have been given trips like cruises and vacations by their companies. Generally their feedback is that while it was a nice reward for success at work, but it didn’t leave them feeling more connected to their team or their leadership.
Next, don’t miss the fact that the sole purpose of creating a Shared Experience has to be the generation of camaraderie and team unity. These cannot come off as a negotiations or bargaining for motivation. People know when they are being manipulated under the guise of “fun.”
Right after I graduated from college, I went to work for a team that (which I discovered after I joined) had a reputation for low team morale. There was a high staff turnover and the team culture bordered on toxic. Every summer, the leadership would give the entire organization a half-day off so they could attend a company cookout. Even though it resembled a Shared Experience, the unspoken understanding by the whole team was that this was a ‘head fake” in the direction of team building. The event was set up to make it feel that the leadership was concerned about the morale, but it didn’t connect. It came off contrived and not genuine. Especially because you “given” the time off if you came to the cookout, otherwise you had to stay at work.