The art of Failing — Leveraging mistakes
Try again. Fail again. Fail better (S. Beckett)
The fear of failing is one of the major blockers in a teams ability to achieve creative solutions.
Whenever one joins a new team, there’s a required ramp up period to understand the product, to get familiar with the new technologies in place so that with time one is able to be an active element of the team.
What I’ve seen happening somewhat often is new team members taking quite a while to step out of the comfort zone, to take some risk and expose themselves to failure. This is completely understandable and expected but at the same time, I’ve also seen first hand people taking the leap and facing challenges that at first seemed simply too hard to tackle. I must say the results were quite surprising, being that within a short period of time those who were brave enough to embrace failure were able to develop themselves, becoming quite experiment and comfortable, being able to contribute really fast and pick up the pace from the rest of us. It’s not an easy process, where one must endure challenges that are quite trivial for others, before making the breakthrough that creates the ‘Click’, the ‘Aha!’ moment that is in no more than a first step towards product/technology mastery:
I think this kind of approach comes with a couple of conditions:
The first condition is for a personal perspective, for the one starting a new challenge to take the resilient mindset that reminds us that failing is part of the process. I’ve said many times to new colleagues: “I’m quite sure that you’ll make mistakes, and that’s perfectly alright, we all do. I’m equally sure that the rest of the team is here to help you in whichever way we can and as sure as that in the end, you’ll be able to succeed or learn from this experience.” Either way, there is something good coming out of it.
It can become quite frustrating, specially with complex products with a broad range of technologies, to start feeling the natural flow of things, but if one focuses on short goals, always reminding oneself that if one fails, it’s simply a matter of understanding what went wrong, take our lessons and push forward once more. Yes, with some mistakes there might be more costly impacts towards the product, if one simply expects the effort of accommodating errors comes from the individual and not the team or the organisation. This is where the second condition steps in.
This second condition is set upon not only the organisation as but the teams (and team leaders) specifically, and that is to create a work environment that welcomes mistakes as part of the process.
This can be equally challenging, due to criticality of certain projects, deadlines to keep or simply the aversion to mistakes.
There are multiple ways to empower new colleagues in our daily activities from simply having them take a topic by themselves and be available to step in when they’re blocked, to reversed shadowing (on more critical setups, for example): they take the lead alongside one more knowledgeable colleague that steps if a mistake is made, explaining the context of the error and discussing possible solutions. Of course this requires the availability of resources that the project at a given moment may not allow, but we can always try anything else that we think it might be useful, within the given reasoning. What do we have to lose? If the road leads us to a dead-end, we at least know that this is not the way and we should seek another path.
Let’s welcome the opinions of new colleagues and encourage them to step up, opposed to simply wait for them to have the courage to talk about something they are not 100% certain. Let us invite them to take up a new challenge, being supportive and available. And specially, let us try different ways of coaching our teams, and fail along the way, only to find a better solution right after that.
We, as a team, fail and succeed together.
The value of the time it takes to properly train a new colleague is returned quickly in the shape of a trusting, enthusiastic, experient and mature team.
Let us try, sometimes fail, but always try again until we succeed.