how to deal with failure as a team

Coping with failure as a team can be more challenging than most entrepreneurs think. Self esteem is shot down, morales are low and much more work to be done. In such a scenario, how do you turn things around, and fast?

Failure is a fact of life – individually and as a team. Individual failures are hard to see -people find it extremely hard or near impossible to look into themselves and say “I screwed up”. As a team there will always be someone to point out as the cause. In that way, finding failures might be easier in a team. But when it comes to dealing with it, team failures are harsher and more sensitive issues. After all, it is the people who make up teams and not all people are the same.

Teams that have people who see themselves as always being right, will be the most challenging to deal with. If the team has different personality types, the problem of dealing becomes bigger – the first type put the blame on others, and the second think they were right all the way.

Pravin Joshi, a software engineer, lecturer and a co-initiator of Startup Weekend Kathmandu has had his experiences with dealing with team failures. It was in 1998-1999 when Joshi and three friends started their first venture – a small software firm that produced educational software. Five months into it, giving in to family pressures, two of the members quit, something totally unplanned. Since it was their first venture, it was extremely hard to digest. Joshi shares that if it was today, all they would have done is throw a farewell party, but back then it shocked them into facing a harsh reality. For at least two weeks, the remaining members were still processing what happened and how to take things forward.

Other cases might be where products launched fail to live up to expectations or services take too much to catch on with potential clients. Here’s five steps to help deal with any type of failure coming your way.

1Talk it out
The best thing would be to sit down and have a meaningful conversation about what happened with the entire team. Once team members can articulate issues occupying their minds, they can begin to move forward. The team may stay intact or break down, but at the end of the day, all should be able to understand and learn from how they got things wrong.

2 Get work updates
After the team broke down, the rest of Mr. Joshi’s team, didn’t bother talking about the most important part of the ‘break-up’ – the status of the projects that the leaving members were working on. No one knew how much work had been completed or even where the possibly pending work was saved. The take-away message is that a procedure needs to be in place where leaving members turn in complete projects and update supervisors about the status of pending work. This way someone else can more easily take it on.

3Boost low morales
Most team members will take time to heal from the severe blow the failure dealt to their self esteem. Take measures to heal fallen self esteem and to assess the fact that it was no single person’s mistake. Focus on the lessons learned and gather anything positive – reviews, comments, feedback that you can get your hands on to boost low morales. Its important to make employees believe in themselves.

4Moving forward
Motivation comes from finding a clear path to move ahead. Sitting down, talking, arguing even, and finding direction is always the best motivator. Team building exercises are a great idea too. Use failures as learning experiences – prepare contingency plans to avoid such catastrophes in the future and remind team members about it as a lesson to learn.

5Using the incident as a turning point
Sometimes the incident hurts the team so bad that we forget to see any positives that may come out of it. Like success, failure too can bring a team together as employees help each other pick themselves up. If you have a great team, the failure can be just what you needed to re-focus efforts. Channel your collective frustrations and desire to succeed into focusing your efforts further. Success might be elusive but where there’s a will, there is always a way.

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