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Letting people FAIL is good for business!

Last month, a team I was working with decided they needed to achieve a certain goal. It took a few weeks to clarify the goal, but once the decision was made, we were ready to take action.

The team member, whom I’ll refer to as Bob, would shoulder most of the workload. He wanted to take an approach that some team members didn’t think would be successful (and I agreed, having witnessed another team fail despite their best efforts).

I encouraged Bob to proceed with his approach anyway, even though I knew he might fail. This surprised some team members who expected me to intervene and steer the situation in what they perceived as “the right direction.” However, I chose not to, and here’s why:

Allowing people to make decisions fosters their engagement and ownership of their tasks and responsibilities. If it’s their idea, they are more likely to follow through.

When it’s their idea, and they face roadblocks, they become more creative and innovative in finding solutions.

If their approach works, it’s a win for the team. If it doesn’t, it provides an opportunity for them to learn from failure, ask for help or ideas from the group, and receive support.

When the team provides help, it is willingly offered, and the individual is fully committed, engaged, and responsible for the plan.

In this particular instance, Bob’s approach didn’t work as most of us suspected, and we ended up back where we started three weeks later before finding a successful solution. Some might argue that we wasted three weeks of effort, but I disagree, and here’s why:

The goal wasn’t time-critical, so the extra time wasn’t a significant issue.

The benefits of allowing someone to publicly fail, then rallying together to help them succeed, made the team stronger and more prepared to face future challenges.

The individual benefited from the freedom to make decisions and try their approach, knowing the team would support them.

Ultimately, the team’s cohesion and problem-solving capabilities were enhanced during those three weeks.

So, rather than seeing it as “losing” three weeks, we invested that time in building a stronger team while solving a live problem. And that, I believe, is a great result!

So, perhaps in non-critical situations, consider letting people fail a little, as it can strengthen the team and yield far greater results in the future.

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