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.