Perspectives on Failure

Photo by Tomasz Stasiuk

Photo by Tomasz Stasiuk

Over the last few weeks, I have been striving to be more mindful in my coaching--to be really present in the moment.  It is easy for me to fall into a consulting or mentoring role, and I want to further practice the coaching skills that I have been learning.  I teeter between conscious incompetence and conscious competence.  Failure is a part of learning, and like most humans, I struggle with it.  Apparently I am not the only one thinking and writing about failure; below are some articles from others on the subject:

So where does that leave me?  I considered treating my work like a science lab, full of experimentation, but that perspective didn't feel right.  It makes me over-analytical and quite critical on myself (I do not need any more of that!).  I was wishing for some kind of renewal, like morning dew on the ground--the feeling wasn't strong enough for me to sustain it to stay in the moment.  Thankfully I did find a perspective that helps me practice mindfulness, and I've been feeling better in my work.

How do you handle failure when you're learning?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

How to Learn

Photo by Elyse

Photo by Elyse

An employee makes a simple mistake.  He's overly concerned that he'll lose his job because he's a contractor, and he doesn't see the opportunity to prevent others from making the same mistake as a result.  Given how many organizations are relying on contractors for staff augmentation, what can they do to encourage mistake proofing over fear?

How other employees and managers react to mistakes plays a large part in how someone will react when they make one.  If others place blame, then it is only natural to be fearful of the consequences.  But if they look at the system to see what caused the mistake to occur, they encourage contractors to do the same and learn.  It is by making mistakes and failing that people learn to adapt, be more attentive, and become better problem solvers.  

So the next time someone makes a mistake, ask questions.  Question everything.  Find out the root cause of the mistake and see if there's an opportunity to prevent it.  But use it as a learning opportunity, not a witch hunt.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Do Something and Celebrate Failures

Photo by Doug Beckers

Photo by Doug Beckers

I get a kick from finding agile ideas in non-software development related resources.  Penelope Trunk recently posted about how to see the barrier to reaching your goals, and her advice was, "the way you figure out what you should be doing next is that youtry stuff."  It seems so simple, but most people get caught up in planning and neglect to take the first step.  Agile teams get in the habit of doing because of the nature of their work, but managers and leaders can easily fall in the trap of going all with the status quo.  Why?

Part of doing stuff also inevitably means failure.  It's part of the feedback loop and how we learn.  Failure usually doesn't mean the end of the world, but we feel shame, self-doubt, and unhappy nonetheless.  Just yesterday I was telling one of my project managers how I was mad at myself during the holiday break because I felt like I should've been able to do something more or something differently to change the way things turned out related to her project.  It's not rational for me to blame myself for the situation, but I did, and I struggled to see what could have changed to improve things earlier.

According to researcher Dr. Brene Brown, guilt can be a helpful emotion, but shame is destructive.  To overcome that feeling of shame, we can use body language to change our emotional state.  Namely by doing the Failure Bow:

If managers and leaders can be more transparent in their failures, teams will be encouraged to further embrace openness and courage.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.