Small Steps and Failing Forwards

Posted By - Ceri Newton-Sargunar


Agile Process Improvement

“Small steps” is one of my mottos.

It’s impossible to “fail forwards” when your sense of self worth is intrinsically linked to your success without them.

If you, or your team, miss a milestone – how do you feel? Disappointed but glad of the discovery of weaknesses that you can improve upon for next time? Thrilled at the opportunity for learning and growth, and for building a better version next time? Or do you feel disheartened, a bit rubbish? Quite disheartened, actually?

I’ve seen a team careen towards collective burnout because their leader’s sense of their own worth was so closely tied to the team’s success, and I’ve seen leaders who “motivated” their people with gems like “I don’t need to tell you that everyone’s jobs are on the line!”

Not surprisingly, those teams didn’t really deliver. They just took on more and more, unable to say “no” for fear of looking (or making anyone else look) bad. They’d lie about their progress, because it wasn’t safe to tell the truth.

The consistent failure to get everything in their mammoth backlog done meant more feelings of failure, more disappointment.

What could happen, if that leader chose to see and to own their own failings? Or to label them as an opportunity for development, learning and growth?

What would happen if anyone on that team had done the same?

What would happen if, emboldened by seeing others taking small steps towards “better” instead of “perfect”, the junior members in that team – the leaders of the future – began to do it, too?

If you have to succeed, to win, to deliver a perfect product to feel good about yourself then you significantly reduce your ability to learn and grow either yourself, or those around you.

Some small steps in a more helpful direction include:

⭐ acknowledging your feelings of disappointment and the mistakes you made, without dwelling on them;
⭐ listing the things YOU can do differently next time;
⭐ congratulating your team on their effort, and ask them what they’ve learned from the process;
⭐ spending time recalling instances where you learned from failure, or went on to better things afterwards;
⭐ stopping yourself saying “should have…”, “ought to have…” and “if I/we/you had/n’t…” and removing it from your team vocabulary. Reframing with “next time let’s…” or “next time we can…” instead.

What small steps would you add?

Want to know what makes up an agile team? Read What is an Agile Team

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