“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Trevor wanted his people to be pillars of innovation and creativity. When he came to me for coaching around innovation, he mentioned how fearful his team was in taking risks and possibly touching failure. I asked him, “What are you doing to celebrate failures?” Like many leaders, he had no answer. We then looked at some fun ways that corporate leaders have learned to take their failures and celebrate them. In doing so, they help their most creative people to develop exciting new ideas.
Celebrating your failures is just as important as celebrating your success. Here’s some ideas for you.
- Hold an Idea Funeral
Holding an idea funeral is a fun way to learn from the failure as a group, as Annabel Acton says in an Inc. article. Take turns eulogizing the idea or project you’re “burying,” sharing lessons learned. Focus on its merits as well as the reasons it ultimately failed. This creates a culture of trying out new ideas and learning from the results. “Startup funerals” have taken off as well, as budding entrepreneurs are increasingly embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success.
- Create a Fail Wall
The finance website NerdWallet creates a “Fail Wall” where mistakes are posted, emphasizing that everyone fails and honoring outside-the-box thinking. Why not set up a “Fail Wall” in your own workplace? Give it a brightly colored banner and encourage people to write down their failures on post-it notes and stick them on the wall.
- Give a Heroic Failure award
Advertising company Grey gives a “Heroic Failure” award to employees who take ambitious risks and go down in flames. Giving this award changes the culture of feeling shame or humiliation if a risk doesn’t pan out. Rather than letting failure become part of people’s identity, they become branded as risk-takers.
- Hold a “F— Up Night”
In a popular social meetup event called “F— Up Nights,” a handful of entrepreneurs tell their stories about failure, followed by a Q&A session. These events been held in over 250 cities across 80 countries. Hold a similar event with your own people, encouraging everyone to take a turn at the mic. If it’s a hit, hold a series of them so everyone gets time to share and ask questions. Find a fun way to host the event outside of the office, like reserving a large room at a restaurant or finding a community space that hosts performances.
- Record What You’ve Tried
Keep a track record of failures, with detailed information about what people tried. Just as a failed cancer drug proved incredibly useful for managing the AIDS virus, a past failure can become a wild success in a different context. Take notes on why the idea failed—it might succeed under the right conditions, or if certain aspects of it are revamped.
It’s most fitting to celebrate failures related to innovation, rather than execution, Harvard Business Review points out. You want to celebrate the failures that show you took a leap. If someone failed to follow through on a task, you obviously won’t want to throw a party. If she gave her all in a new project and it just didn’t achieve the desired results, that’s different. Celebrating those kinds of failures will help your people learn to fail gracefully, growing from the experience.
Most importantly, stop thinking—and talking—in terms of “win/lose.” When you eliminate the shame around failure, and show it’s okay to be vulnerable, people can talk about it. That means they can learn from it, finding the germ of a great idea within it.
Want more advice on boosting creativity and innovation in your company? Hire leadership coach Joel Garfinkle so he can help you develop and implement ideas that get results.
“It is easier to motivate people to do something difficult than something easy.” ~Sheri L. Dew~
Lydia Asks: I don’t know how to make some of my people feel more invested in their work. I would have thought success alone would be the best motivation, but apparently not. How can I get people to care more about their work?
Joel Answers: Increasing employee engagement is vital to retaining your people and succeeding as a company. Yet many companies’ “employee engagement plan” consists of giving out a survey and then telling managers to make things better, says Gallup. That’s probably why 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work—or are actively disengaged—according to the organization’s data.
Here’s how to build engagement, inspiring your people to achieve more than they thought possible.
- Be Transparent
When employees feel the company is hiding something from them, they feel less invested in their jobs and may start to look elsewhere. If the company is going through a rough time, be transparent. Share your plan and what all employees can do to help. You might be surprised at how much this will build morale, not only helping you weather the storm but emerge from it in better shape than ever.
- Get into the Trenches
If you’re hiding behind your desk all day, you’re missing opportunities to contribute more as a manager. Build your working relationships by wandering through the office, asking people how they’re doing and listening to their ideas. Ask them if they need help, showing you have no qualms about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in with whatever’s needed. It’ll earn you tremendous respect and create a true sense of working as a team, increasing employees’ engagement in their jobs.
- Allow Your Stars to Shine
Give your team a problem to tackle, so they can generate their own creative solutions. If you need to bring an idea to upper management, create the idea as a team. Give credit where it’s due when you present it, of course—execs will be impressed that you’re fostering ingenuity among your people, and your team will feel valued. Your employees will also relish the chance to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization’s success, and your top talent will soar when their creative abilities are unleashed.
- Share Gratitude Often
The power of gratitude in the workplace. Say thank you often, and be specific about what you appreciate in people. If someone just completed a project, point out the qualities and talents she used in seeing it through—and do this in front of her peers. Give frequent feedback about what people are doing well, along with guidance in areas where they’re growing.
- Give People the Chance to Self-Critique
When an employee could have performed better, give him the opportunity to self-critique by explaining what he thinks he should have done differently. Then help him figure out how to get there. Failure itself usually gives people new insights; your job is to help them integrate these insights into their future performance. Addressing failures or shortcomings in this way feels empowering to employees, as you’re trusting them to help figure out a new plan.
- Create Social Opportunities
Give people the chance to share about their lives and aspirations in a less formal way by creating social opportunities. Having a pizza party for lunch after a team accomplishment will encourage everyone to gather in one place and chat. Taking a few employees out for lunch each week will also give you a chance to connect—and by handpicking people who don’t know each other well encourages new relationships. Asking your team to select a volunteer opportunity to take part in together is another idea. By fostering relationships, you’ll increasing their sense of comradery, which will make motivation and engagement skyrocket.
- Get Silly
If you just send a humdrum email about an employee’s accomplishments, coworkers might barely glance at it. Instead, celebrate these moments in unexpected ways. The Society for Human Resource Management describes how in one company, a group of people parade around with kazoos, horns, and cow bells proclaiming the news. Getting a little wacky turns it into a fun moment for everyone, and makes them take notice.
As you can see, these factors aren’t related to compensation. Higher pay and benefits don’t drive engagement—relationships and communication do. By boosting employees’ engagement, you’ll be increasing their loyalty to the organization and raising the bar for what you can achieve together.
“Entrepreneurs as ‘soloists’ will be replaced by orchestras playing a stronger, more credible tune.” ~Steve Case~
Tamara felt her department was too isolated from the rest of the organization. As she stepped into a higher-level managerial position, she talked with her mentor about how to change this situation. Her mentor advised her to develop a cross-functional team of people who worked together in close communication.
A cross-functional workforce is composed of people from a variety of departments and levels of hierarchy. If, like Tamara, you manage people from an array of departments—or if you aspire to step into such a position—start leveraging a cross-functional workforce to increase your team’s effectiveness.
- Understand the big picture.
Building a strong cross-functional network will help you better understand how your organization functions. You’ll learn how to improve workflow processes because you’ll know exactly what should happen during every step. That knowledge will make you a better project manager. Others will come to see you as a go-to person when they have questions about project flow or other departments’ functions. As you share your knowledge, everyone will come to understand the big picture better.
- Improve your interpersonal communication.
Creating a cross-functional workforce means developing strong communication with different departments and areas of the organization. You’ll find that the functioning of the whole company improves as you learn to communicate fluidly across the organization. By checking in regularly with people across the company, you’ll make yourself and your team more approachable. When they have questions or concerns, they’ll bring them to you right away rather than letting them fester. Likewise, other employees will learn to reach out to colleagues from other departments when they need to ask clarifying questions. They’ll become supportive allies to one another rather than working in isolation, or worse, in competition. Model that attitude by being a humble, approachable leader who always seeks to improve through feedback, and others will follow suit.
- Clearly understand responsibilities.
When you understand the big picture and are communicating effectively, you’ll be able to ensure that everyone understands their role and responsibilities. Because you have thorough knowledge of how a particular department functions and what it does, you’ll know what each employee is supposed to be doing. You’ll therefore be able to communicate your expectations clearly, and to more accurately evaluate employees’ performance.
- Building workplace morale.
When the whole workplace feels like a team and you’ve built a strong level of trust between departments, morale will skyrocket. The end goal will be at the forefront of people’s minds every day; you’ll all have more of a “big picture” mentality. Plus, you’ll all celebrate each other’s successes and see how they contribute to the success of the whole group, boosting motivation. As your increased effectiveness leads to more big successes, morale will only continue to rise.
To build a workforce that is truly cross-functional, Tamara’s mentor advised her and her team, to have one-on-one conversations with people who have key roles or managerial positions in different areas of the organization. “Have lunch with them, and ask them to explain what they do. Show respect and admiration for what their department does,” she urged. “You’ll develop strong rapports with these key players, and that will grow your visibility and influence, helping you reach reach greater heights of success.”
If you’ve started working toward building a cross-functional team, but want more pointers, contact Joel for executive coaching. He’ll be able to provide effective strategies to growing these relationships.
What benefits have you experienced from building cross-functional relationships? Share your stories here on how your teams, across the organization, learned to work together more effectively.
“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~Misty Copeland~
Client Taylor Asks:
I asked my employees for honest feedback on my performance, and a few of them said I’m too authoritative in the way I speak to them. How can I show them I value their intelligence and ideas?
Coach Joel Answers:
When David Steiner became CEO of Waste Management, Inc., he received an invaluable piece of advice from one of his directors, as I describe in my book Getting Ahead. The director told him that one phrase will help him shift the organizational culture more than any other: “I need your help.” These are the four most powerful leadership words you can say, and you should say them often.
Why “I need your help”? When you’re in a position of power, you may have the authority to impose your ideas on others, but that’s no way to motivate them. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of an ineffective manager. Asking for help in generating solutions, and plans for implementing them, is a surefire way to make employees more invested in their work. They want the chance to think creatively, helping you devise a strategy. It places you on more equal footing, showing respect for their intelligence. Moreover, it brings a broader range of ideas and expertise to the table. If you start using this phrase regularly, you’ll have shifted your whole leadership approach, and your people will take notice.
When should you use this phrase? Here are a few examples:
- When you need a new strategy.
Maybe you need a new way of gaining market advantage because competitors have moved in. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from higher-ups—they might come from your team. Bring all creative minds into dialogue with each other for a brainstorming session. Saying, “I need your help” will make them feel empowered to think outside of the box to bring forth potential solutions. Encourage them to throw out any ideas that come to mind, without judging them, and watch ideas merge and evolve.
- When you need to improve workplace culture.
When your workplace culture needs to improve, initiate change by saying “I need your help.” This strategy works much better than reprimanding people. Even if you need to critique an employee’s behavior or issue a warning, saying “I need your help to create a more harmonious workplace for everyone” can still work wonders. If you want to keep the employee on your team, this phrase will help him to hear you and modify his behavior.
- When the company’s in transition.
If the company is about to go through a change, don’t keep employees in the dark about it. Rather, solicit their ideas for managing the change or devising innovative solutions. Instill the feeling of “we’re all in this together,” and employees will take pride in helping see the change through. “I need your help” are four powerful words that will boost your leadership of any challenging situation. Change might still be scary, but when you make everyone feel invested in creating a plan and seeing it through, it will be a growing experience for all of you.
- When you need help with a particular task.
Use this phrase when you need help with the small things as well as the big things. Rather than ordering an employee to do something, say, “I need your help.” Whether you need a particular type of expertise, or you just need someone to complete a report, using these words shows you see the employee as an equal. You value her time, knowing she has other important obligations. When you make requests in this manner, employees will probably be happy to fulfill them, and it will foster a culture of gratitude.
Use these four powerful words, and your leadership skills will shine. Employees will see you as a great boss who truly cares about them. After all, these aren’t just words—they convey an attitude of appreciation and respect, which will help you get the most from your team. Remember, the best leaders know how to be humble, a quality that this phrase embodies.
Use these leadership words frequently over the next week, and keep a journal of your interactions. Email Joel for more tips on how to show your people how much you respect and value them.
How did people react when you used these leadership words? Share your experiences here.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” ~Andrew Carnegie~
Client Gina Asks:
As a leader, I want to have a stronger impact on team morale. Some leaders seem to always have the right words to make people feel supported and energized. Can you give me some tips on what to say to keep my team inspired?
Coach Joel Answers:
Great leaders make sure to use team-building phrases each day. To become a better leader, use them not only with the people you supervise, but also with other colleagues. These phrases, when used by leaders in any field, will build strong working relationships that bolster the effectiveness of the whole team. Use them, and others will also perceive you as a stronger leader—someone who empowers others and values their contributions.
- “What can we achieve?” Asking this question will help team members develop a common vision for a project. To ensure the best chance of success, all team members must believe in the vision. Posing this question will reveal areas where people lack confidence and problems that need to be addressed. It will also help to define a realistic goal, as team members’ distinct areas of expertise will give them important input about what you can accomplish together.
- “What can I do better?” This question is one of the most important (but often overlooked) phrases used by great leaders. A great leader welcomes constructive feedback about her performance. Asking this question rather than passively waiting for feedback makes it feel safer for employees to share their input. In turn, the leader has the opportunity to strengthen her performance based on this feedback.
- “Thank you.” It’s easy to say “thanks” in a brusque way, but sharing genuine gratitude requires more thought. Say exactly what you’re thankful for, in a moment when you can focus your full attention on sharing your appreciation. Make eye contact and smile, which will give greater emphasis to your words. And whenever possible, share your thanks in front of others on the team, so team members will come to notice and appreciate each other’s strengths more.
- “What’s your opinion?” All employees want to feel that their opinions are valued. By asking this question of team members frequently, you’ll help bring a greater diversity of ideas to the table. Posing this question to specific individuals at meetings will help spark dialogue about ideas that need to be hashed out.
- “I need your help.” Rather than issuing demands, come to employees with a request. Let them know that you need (and appreciate) their skills to get the job done. They’ll take much more pride in their work when you frame requests in this way.
- “What drives you?” Great leaders want to know what their employees are passionate about. They want to know what energizes them, what motivates them to do their best each day. This knowledge helps them to delegate work appropriately, so each employee has the chance to do more of what fuels her. Plus, finding out what employees are passionate about will aid you in succession planning, preparing them to take on more responsibility in that area.
Leaders who frequently use these phrases will see the team’s performance improve alongside their own. Practice using these phrases at team meetings and in everyday interactions in the workplace. Your employees will come to see you as more personable, supportive, and team-focused, and they’ll feel more driven to work as a team in turn.
Try using all six of these phrases this week, and take notes on the interactions they spark. Email Joel with any questions about your results.
How did people respond when you used these phrases? Do you have other go-to phrases for boosting team morale?