Fail Your Way Into a Growth Culture in 3 Steps

Image by Ian Kim via Unsplash

The goal is to develop a team of independent and critical thinkers: people whom you trust to make these decisions in the future.

Three days before Tom’s vacation, it became abundantly clear that he was not going to complete all the changes. We agreed to revise his work scope: he would implement one of them and other teammates would pick up the rest. After a few late nights and a lot of coffee, we pulled through during his vacation without any delays to our external deadlines.

0. Cultivate an environment where there is room to fail

OK, I lied. This is really a prerequisite before you can even consider letting your team fail. Innovation is often the result of repeated failures. We have all heard the story where Thomas Edison failed 3,000 times before inventing the lightbulb. Instagram started out as a location-sharing app that failed to gain traction before pivoting to a photo-sharing app, which was ultimately sold to Facebook for $1 billion. Fostering a culture where people are consistently encouraged to try out their ideas without fear of failure is essential to any company in a highly innovative space.

1. Remind yourself that the suggestion might not fail after all

Even if you conducted all the research and investigation in the world, it is important to remind yourself that your analysis could still be wrong. In fact, nobody is right all the time. Steve Nash, the best NBA free-throw shooter of all time, still missed nearly 10% of his free throws. Most of Odeo’s investors in 2006 thought some random hackathon project had no potential, yet it grew to a $25 billion business called Twitter². Even if you are dead-sure that your colleague’s approach will fail, she just might surprise you with an innovative approach of which no one has ever thought.

2. Evaluate the impact on the project and company

Before my team discussed the details of the implementation enhancement, I preemptively added some buffer to the timelines to account for unknown unknowns when discussing with external stakeholders. When the decision point occurred, I was confident that even if our internal milestones slipped slightly, the external deadlines would still be met. This gave me extra flexibility in my calculations because our users would not be impacted.

3. Assess the impact on your team member(s)

I knew that my team members learned best by figuring things out themselves and were looking to improve their technical planning abilities. I made the call that this learning opportunity would ultimately benefit the team. If I had insisted on my approach, the lesson would have been lost because instead of experiencing it, they would have had to imagine the counterfactuals.

Product-minded Engineering Leader. Organization & Cultural Builder. Traveler. Martial Artist (Muay Thai & Pekiti Tirsia Kali).

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