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Fostering a Culture That Celebrates Failures and Successes Equally

Managing Expectations
Team reaction
Company Culture

18 August, 2020

Lakshmi Baskaran, VP of Engineering at SEDNA Systems, describes how to foster a culture that equally celebrates failure and success. She discusses initiatives that organizations can adopt to encourage teams to try innovative ideas without being fearful of being judged for failed outcomes.

Problem

Many organizations are trying to inculcate a culture that will enable teams to experiment with new ideas. Despite those efforts, teams are often reluctant to do so and continue to fear failure.
 

Actions taken

In our organization, we had numerous conversations with our teams about how failures were an integral part of success and how it was important to speak about failure as much as we talk about success. During our one on ones and town halls, we discussed how failures provide us an opportunity to learn. We would emphasize that failures are not considered as a negative outcome, but people were still hesitant to venture into new initiatives.
 

We decided to be unequivocally clear about the intentions and why it mattered. So we organized “Fuckup Evenings”, an event that encourages everyone to talk about failures - big or small, minuscule or disastrous. The objective of the event is to encourage people to not feel shameful in talking about their failures. Our engineers discussed simple failures like a code that poorly performed and complex ones that lead to our platform being down for a few hours. Most of us who were reluctant to speak about failures, enjoyed listening to others describe their failures and had a good laugh.
 

Some people were more reluctant to share their failures than others. It is human nature to not talk about failures due to the fear of being judged. We invited people from the leadership team to talk about their catastrophic failures in their careers. When executives opened up and were not embarrassed to talk about how they caused some of the disastrous failures, many engineers felt it was acceptable to speak up about theirs. “Fuck up Evening” is an event that we all look forward to.
 

Lessons learned

  • Once people became more willing to talk about their past failures, talking about current challenges and failures became more acceptable in the organization. When people knew that they can try and fail -- and that failing is okay -- they were more eager to try daring ideas and venture into new directions. They also were confident that they would not be judged or criticized if their new initiatives failed. It is also important to set some acceptable boundaries towards failures. cannot be working on a project for years knowing that it has a high likelihood of failure. Therefore, it is important to coach people on how to foresee failures and abandon the projects or initiatives that show early signs of the failed outcomes.
  • Many companies are still only paying lip service and lack actionable initiatives that would make real change. Talking about embracing failures is not enough -- it is important to show them in action.
  • In conservative organizations where failures are looked down upon, the effort lies on the leadership team to foster this culture. Leaders need to step up and speak about how they embraced failures and went past it. It all starts with one influential leader to start the initiative that will lead the rest of the company to follow suit.

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