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5 tips on how to deal with fear of failure within your team

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

"Ask any job hunter to describe a time they took a risk or persevered through adversity to achieve great results, and they’re likely to have an example (or two) at the ready. Ask them to share a time they failed, and chances are they will clam up or change the subject. That’s because failure still carries a negative stigma along with it," says Sanjay Malhotra, CTO of Clearbridge Mobile.

Ever since we were little children, we have been taught that making mistakes is not a good thing since, for example, every mistake that we made on a test would reflect on our test scores at the end. Many of us wanted to do well in school and get praise from our parents and teachers, so we tried to make as little mistakes as possible.

Today, in this rapidly changing world, all of the sudden we are encouraged to make mistakes. When making mistakes, we can learn from them and do better next time, having a positive impact on innovation. However, this is not an easy thing for many people since that mindset of "I cannot make mistakes or people will think I am not fit for this job" is still present among many of us.

It's time to start working on this mindset and you as a teamleader or coach can play a huge role in this! Let's start creating an environment where it is okay to make mistakes and where people feel safe to do so. Below you can find 5 tips and tricks to slowly start getting rid of that fear of failure within your team:

Lead by example, leaders

Your team won't feel safe to fail when their leader or manager seems untouchable and flawless. However, when your team sees that you as a leader also makes mistakes, owns up to them, shares lessons learned, and ways on how to prevent the same mistakes from happening in the feature; they will stop seeing a failure as something embarassing and will be less risk-averse.

Tip 1: start with sharing your failures with your team: why you made the wrong call, what you learned from it, and how you used it to improve in the future. Extra: Ask whether they have been in similar situations and if they have additional tips for you.

Food for thought: when was the last time you talked about failure or killed off a pet project because there it was producing little to no value? What was holding you back? Try sharing this learning with your team and have an open discussion on it with your team.

Wall of fame failure

In order to make a difference in this rapidly changing world, leaving opportunities unexplored is just as high of a risk as trying something bold. Therefore, encourage your team to try risky or unusual items and worry less about failure. If they are very affraid to do something wrong, try taking babysteps letting them do something risky on small parts of a small project. This will give them confindence to try to do the same in the future.

Tip 2: Try to install a (bi-)weekly moment where you go over the different failures of the past few weeks and clap everytime someone failed (and learned something out of it). You will see that it will release tension around failing a lot!

Tip 3: Have you tried giving a quarterly ‘Out of the Box’ award? You can award high-risk, creative effort, regardless of success in the traditional sense or not. It helps people see the value of failure.

Food for thought: When you don't try anything, you cannot gain anything, and isn't that more of a failure?

See every failure as an opportunity

Even when it is hard in the moment, every failure can be viewed as an opportunity. We often forget that failure can lead to even better outcomes. Look back on a failed initiative, find small things that worked, and identify options that would have been much better. After connecting the dots backward, you will likely be celebrating more successes.

Tip 4: try to do regular retrospectives with your team. Following questions can help you a lot to reflect

  • What went well this week / in this project? What did you / we do well?

  • What are things you / we will repeat in the future?

  • What could you / we have done differently? How can you / we apply this information to future opportunities?

  • Who can you / we learn from?

  • What will be your / our next move?

Tip 5: whenever you are starting on a big project, sit together with your team and have a creative session on "all of the different ways that this project can fail." and make a newspaper cover out of it. It will help you already consider failure as a possible outcome and explore it ahead of time.

Do you want to take extra steps for your team and team members to grow and evolve? Contact us or book a call with us!


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