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How to Use Collaboration to Rebound from Failure

Monday, November 21, 2016 - 11:15
Use collaboration to rebound from failures

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”
- Elbert Hubbard, writer, publisher and artist

In our post “How to Use Business Failures to Build Success,” we argued that “failing – even repeatedly – can be good, maybe even great for companies seeking growth and innovation. Because what seems like failure today actually may be a sign of tomorrow’s success.”

In the piece, we quoted emotional intelligence guru Travis Bradberry, who believes “using failure to your advantage requires resilience and mental strength.” He says there are three “critical attitudes” to maintain in the face of failure:

  1. Perspective
  2. Optimism
  3. Persistence

We would add “Perseverance” to Bradberry’s list, because the term adds a dimension of action to one’s response to failure. To persevere means to pursue a steady course of action, despite difficulties, obstacles or discouragement. In this way, perseverance is the key to productivity.

“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
- Thomas Edison, inventor and business leader

Leadership guru Dan Rockwell also believes perseverance in the form of action is the essence of a constructive comeback from failure. And in a collaborative working environment, this type of productive response most often takes the shape of direct interaction between colleagues – in person, by phone or video online or some combination of the four modes.

“The tipping point between prolonged disappointment and renewed vitality is a difficult conversation,” Rockwell writes in one post to his Leadership Freak blog. And in the same piece, he provides tips for preparing for this kind of discussion, especially when the topic is failure. Here are some highlights from his list that apply to a team environment:

  • Anticipate friction in the form of resistance, distraction, excuses, blaming or self-condemnation” from one or more teammates. But don’t be discouraged by this natural reaction, as “resistance is the pivotal moment for transformative teams.”
  • Prepare for multiple conversations as a group, because “tough issues” like failure rarely are “resolved with one conversation.”
  • Narrow focus by raising only one failure at a time for the team to handle.

Rockwell also offers a set of questions for facilitating collaborative conversations. We’ve adapted his queries specifically for teams seeking to rebound from failures:

  • How do we maintain our spirit of partnership as we move forward?
  • How has the definition of success changed now that we know the shape of failure?
  • Which of us is responsible for which specific changes to our plans, processes, etc.?
  • How will we design new behaviors to replace failed approaches?
  • How will we structure accountability to each other?

In another post, Rockwell proposes a “3-step system to come out smarter after failure” because “it’s not enough to say, ‘I screwed up.’” A positive path forward requires more actions than words.

Here’s a digest of Rockwell’s approach, modified for a teamwork perspective:

1. Name itName the bad decisions that led to failure

  • Did we explore constructive dissent?
  • Did we lower our standards in pursuit of expediency?
  • Did we consult with mentors, advisers and coaches?
  • Did we make assumptions based on impatience rather than information?
  • Did we rely on untested methods, processes or ideas?

2. Claim itOwn the negative impact of failure on your team and organization as a whole

  • Our team lost momentum because we…
  • Our company lost revenue because we…
  • Our customers were disappointed when we…

3. Reframe itTake a forward-facing posture

  • Moving forward we will stop…
  • Moving forward we will start…
  • Moving forward we will continue…

Per Rockwell, the third step perhaps is most important: “Spend 30 percent of your time looking back and 70 percent of your time looking forward.”

With the right attitude and approach, the failures of the past become the foundation of future success for collaborative teams.

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