failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

individual team member and team

Sacrifice for the Team

Mythologist Michael Meade wrote, “All meaningful change requires a genuine surrender. Yet, to surrender does not simply mean to give up; more to give up one’s usual self and allow something other to enter and redeem the lesser sense of self.” Your employees do this every day as they surrender or “sacrifice” at least some of their individual expression and preferences in service to the team. It is a profound things we ask of people but don’t realize what we’re asking until we encounter some of the issues that arise with teams.

The word “sacrifice” means to surrender something as an offering to something greater. It comes from ancient words that mean “to make holy”. In turn, the word “holy” comes from words meaning to make whole.

The Sacrifice of Individual Identity

When you form a team, you ask individual team members to bring an individual contribution to a unique collective group. That is, you ask each individual to contribute in a way that will transform a collection of individuals into something qualitatively “more” – a team. Like a well-composed piece of music, visual art, or dance, the individual parts (people) by themselves have their own qualities and aims. However, when assembled in a deliberate way, that collection of individual “parts” transforms into an entirely different, cohesive whole. They form a cohesive composition that becomes more than the sum of its individual parts.

While not usually stated explicitly, when you ask individuals to join a team, you are asking them to surrender personal focus and concerns in favor of the team’s collective interests in serving stakeholders. Thus, working on a successful team asks team members to let go of or sacrifice parts of their egos in service of the cohesive whole of the team and to contribute their time, talent, and energy as offerings in service of the team’s stakeholders.

Personal Development from Sacrifice

In doing so, individual team members can evolve to become (more) whole themselves. On an individual level, team members can develop new capabilities. Also, they can let go of old ways of being to become better people. For example, you might expect team members to sacrifice or give up any or all of the following:

  • Insistence on having things done their way;
  • Personal dislike of others they interact with;
  • Making the team’s work about themselves and their personal contribution to the work; or
  • Judging and blaming others to avoid responsibility for mistakes and failures.

On a team level, the group then offers up its collective work product to serve the team’s stakeholders.

Forming a cohesive team is no small feat. You can appreciate why forming a cohesive, purpose-driven, high-performing, stakeholder-centered team eludes most. It takes skill and care to forge a group of individuals into a cohesive team. Maybe it’s time to appreciate what you ask and to acknowledge the sacrifice.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team - put work at center

Build a Team of Self-Motivated Self-Starters with This Subtle Mindset Shift

Are you frustrated because you don’t think your team takes responsibility or is as accountable as they could be? Do you feel like you have to hold people’s hands too much? Do you believe all or some team members lack self-motivation?

You might be feeding into this problem.

You could be unwittingly creating a dynamic that subtly communicates to your team that they shouldn’t make a move without you. For example, if you have a more directive leadership style, you might consider yourself the “hub” to your team’s “spokes”. Effectively, you place yourself in the middle of almost every interaction and decision made on your team. In contrast, let’s assume your leadership style is more “hand’s off”. In this case, your team might be confused about their roles, accountabilities, and decision-making authority. With this confusion, they are more likely to hold back from taking appropriate action.

Assume you have the right people on your team. You can make a subtle mindset shift in how you envision your team, its focus, and way of operating to get things done. Instead start by taking yourself out of the center of that team. Stop seeing yourself as its “hub”. Instead, shift to envision yourself on the “rim” of the team “wheel” along with and your team.  Then, envision the team placing the “work” or current goal in the center. In other words, make the “work” the hub and focus for all action and decision-making instead of you.

When you and your team put the work in the center, you are no longer the “go-to” person . . . the action taker . . . the person team members need to appeal to for permission. Also, you won’t feel the need to be in every little loop.

Rather, you’ll begin to see each of your team members spot what they need to do to address an issue or to move a project forward to reach the goal. Your team will take the reins more readily and more often without feeling the need to rely on you to get the go-ahead.

This frees you up to take on the role as resource, guide, facilitator, and obstacle remover — a much more productive place for a team leader to be at any level in the organization.

If you don’t want to be the parent or the babysitter to your adult team, stop putting yourself in the center of the team. With this one small shift, you will lead your team towards greater self-direction, accountability, and responsibility.

You can view a short, related YouTube video on my channel here.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize team ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Take her 5-minute quiz on to find out how you’re doing at creating a high-performance team environment.

team environment, psychological safety

5 Ways to Back Off and Boost Team Results

Most likely, you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at performing the task work related to your job in your chosen field. It’s likely that once you landed a formal leadership position, you continued operating by using your expertise to exert influence or control over the task work of your team. After all, your expertise with the work is what got you promoted.

Don’t get me wrong. Your expertise is valuable. And there is value to understanding best practices. However, when leading a team, you don’t need to be so hands-on with the daily work to create a team that achieves outstanding results. You can decrease your stress AND boost team performance by being less directive and involved in how things get done. Instead, focus your time and energy on fostering a more productive team environment, individual team member development, and relationships with and between team members.

Here are 5 ways to back off and boost team results:

1. Get out of the hub.

This may sound odd to you. After all, how can you lead the team if you’re not in the loop? As the ultimate decision-maker, you do need to be aware of how the work progresses in general. But you don’t need to know every detail. All communication doesn’t need to flow through you. In fact, this contributes to any stress you experience.

Instead, relinquish acting as the hub of the team and put the work and its purpose at the center of everything your team does. When you do this, your team learns that all of their decisions are driven by what’s needed to further the work and achieve the purpose.

2. Keep the team focused on the bigger picture.

Many details will change throughout the course of an initiative, including tactics, timelines, and even goals and strategy. Trying to control the details can be exhausting.

Instead, keep your team focused on what really matters, the bigger picture. Take time to frame the bigger picture, which includes the purpose of the work, the impact it will have, the values that guide how the team operates. Focusing on the big picture opens up more possibilities for how to tackle the work. And maybe more importantly, being reminded of the big picture can re-focus the team on what’s important after setbacks and during disagreements.

3. Clear away obstacles and distractions.

Instead of directing all the action, give team members the space and responsibility to navigate the way forward as much as possible. By taking more of a back seat, you can spend your time enabling and protecting their progress. Shift your focus to insulating the team from distractions, removing obstacles, and troubleshooting.

4. Model a growth mindset.

Results do matter. And you’re more likely to achieve and even exceed the results you aspire to by adopting an attitude of curiosity and humility. Convey the idea that everyone and everything is a “work in progress”. Focus on “perfecting”, instead of on being “perfect” or achieving “perfection”.

In spite of your professional experience, back off from thinking you know best and stimulate the team’s curiosity. Instead of telling the team what to do and how it should be done, ask questions to tease out their thinking. Based on their thinking, encourage them to take appropriate risks to test assumptions, run experiments, and learn from mistakes that can inform subsequent actions.

5. Create Accountability.

When it’s ultimately your responsibility for the team’s results, it’s tempting to take the way they behave and perform personally. It can be tempting to be too focused on controlling individual team member conduct and performance.

Shift from seeing it as your responsibility to control team members to making team members responsible for their own conduct and performance. In this way, your efforts start with communicating parameters upfront, including team and/or company policies, procedures, behavioral norms, performance expectations, and other team-made agreements and commitments.

Thereafter, if someone runs afoul of an expectation, you simply address the infraction  with an appropriate response. One caveat is that if you avoid addressing known issues, you’ll send the wrong message and undermine future accountability with individuals as well as the entire team.

It may take a new set of skills for you to get the best out of others. Leading others is less about you controlling HOW your team performs tasks and is more about CREATING CONDITIONS that encourage them to be at their best. When they do THEIR best work, you have done YOUR best work.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with senior leaders to create team environments that boost team performance. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com

Team camaraderie, group training

This is What’s Keeping You From Building a High-Performing Team

It’s invisible, silent — you’ll never know it’s there. But it most likely occurs on your team and will keep it from doing its best work.

It is the fear of speaking up about ideas, concerns, questions, and mistakes.

Twenty years of research at Harvard by Amy Edmondson found that the best teams overcome the stigma around being wrong, asking questions, making mistakes, or presenting wild ideas. That is, members of the best teams feel an obligation to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, and about mistakes.

Surprisingly, teams that encourage members to speak up don’t make any fewer mistakes than other teams. However, because they speak up, they are able to address issues that would have otherwise remained in the shadows. Thus, the teams that encourage speaking up learn from mistakes, catch and address issues early, take more risks that lead to innovation, and are better able to adjust to improve their work.

How Come Your Team Members Don’t Speak Up?

There are a few reasons your team is staying silent when speaking up could be helpful. First, they are normal human beings who have adapted over eons to survive. Your team, like all of us, are wired to prefer certainty over uncertainty. Thus, they choose the certainty of remaining quiet and over the uncertainty of the reaction they’ll get for speaking up (e.g., getting fired or ridiculed). Additionally, humans are wired to fit in and be part of the group, instead of sticking out like a sore thumb with a crazy idea or “silly” question.

Second, past experience taught your team how to avoid pain. Past experiences of speaking up in their families, at school, or at work by asking questions or even opposing others, likely trained them that speaking up usually isn’t worth the negative reaction received.

Third, it’s possible that your team environment and/or company culture, has some respect for hierarchy and/or unwritten rules about when, where, how, and who can and should speak up. Your team’s reticence to speak up may signal that you or your company reinforces silence, even if the culture claims to value speaking up.

Why Speaking Up is Important.

According to Edmondson’s findings, the belief that one can speak up without reprisal is called “psychological safety”, and it is THE critical factor in creating a high-performing team. This is especially true when outcomes are uncertain and where people are interdependent on one another to perform work and achieve goals.

Separately, Google reached the same conclusion when it reviewed the data on its own teams to determine what made the best teams the “best”. Google found  five factors important to creating the best teams (including clear roles, goals and plans; meeting deadlines; and doing meaningful work). Of those factors, psychological safety was the lynch pin. In other words, a team could have the other 4 factors of high-performing teams, but without psychological safety,  they didn’t do the level of work that would distinguish them as the highest performing ones.

How come? When individuals feel safe to speak up about things that might show their ignorance, lack of skill, or unconventionality, new ideas come into play and new learning occurs that allows teams to innovate and improve their collaboration and the quality of their work. This is huge because when psychological safety is present, team members are able to overcome the ingrained aversion to speaking up that comes from biology, experience, and culture. So, even if they make the same number of mistakes as other teams, they have a better chance of catching mistakes earlier, addressing and resolving issues that may not have surfaced, and improving the work they do in the future. . . all by feeling free to speak up without fear of punishment or reprisal.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by increasing executive presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how she can help. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

teams, adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

head in the sand; appease

How to Know If You Are an Appeaser

An Appeaser is the opposite of the Micromanager I wrote about previously in How to Know If Your Are a Micromanager. True micromanagers get a bad rap and deservedly so. However, if you’re an Appeaser, your leadership style is just as ineffective and can cause low team morale.

The Appeaser’s Narrative

If you’re an Appeaser, you seek “peace” and stability over achieving desired results in a timely manner. Consequently, you often keep your “head in the sand”. The story you tell yourself is that it’s your job to make sure everyone gets along. Also, you don’t go looking for trouble. You like to believe that if you don’t see problems, they don’t exist. Thus, you stay out of things as much as possible and allow your team to monitor themselves. No news is good news, so if you don’t hear anything negative, you assume your team knows what to do and will get things done. Accordingly, you don’t check in or follow up on their progress.

Appeaser Behaviors

Appeaser will often:

  • Allow team members to operate on their own assumptions about their roles and responsibilities to remain under the belief that things are all right.
  • Rely almost completely on team’s ability to self-organize while setting few if any parameters.
  • Disregard being explicit about purpose, objectives, values, norms, or system parameters.
  • Avoid following up on progress for fear of walking into problems you don’t want to face.
  • Avoid conflict to avert negative reactions from others.
  • Resolve individual complaints to give the complainant what they want for the sake of peace in the moment, without considering implications of the decision to the team or larger group.
Results of Appeasement

As an Appeaser, other may see you as warm and kind; however, you may create more disruption than you think as you pursue your idea of peace because . . . .

  • Work is stymied and the team is less effective than it could be.
  • Team members are often stuck in “limbo” waiting for things to move forward before they can take their work to the next level.
  • Team members are put in the awkward spot of explaining to those outside the team why things aren’t moving forward or why issues aren’t addressed.
  • You undermine group cohesion by granting too many individual exceptions to standard policy and procedure.
Shifting from Appeaser to Leader

If you see yourself as an Appeaser, you can shift to a more balanced leadership approach by seeing yourself more like a Steward of the work. When you do this, you learn to place the work at the center of every decision you make instead of having “peace”. You will find yourself facilitating discussions to get everyone on the same page regarding purpose and norms. You’ll put conditions in place that allow for robust discussions to hash out topics that might have been too unnerving for you previously. In short, you will move from Appeaser to Leader.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.