Building A Culture of Resilience: Learning to Fail Forward

Think about it – It is almost impossible to grow resilience without failure!

Failure. Even the word itself sounds so daunting. A performance report, your driver’s test, a big presentation… There are countless opportunities to fail forward. But what is failure truly? Simply put – It’s learning. Using the term failure is overlooking the opportunity to learn. The way forward is to turn a perceived failure into a learning opportunity about what can be learned.

A group of employees are gathered around a table, seemingly reading a document and brainstorming.

Resilience comes in all shapes and forms: continuing to suggest ideas when yours gets shut down, or perhaps following up with clients until you make a sale, or even refusing to give up on new ways to innovate towards a solution. Within resilience lies a hard team member. So how can you as a leader inspire a culture of resilience? 

  1. Allowing for and Accepting Failure: Everyone has failed in their life before. It is what makes us human, and it is also what makes us grow. A fear of failure is worse than failing itself. Leaning into discomfort is the fastest way to grow as a person and a professional. As leaders we can and should role model and these behaviors for our team whenever we can.
  2. Introducing Design Thinking: Problem solving can be as creative as a new idea. So why only bring creativity to your brainstorming sessions? Design thinking helps teams fail forward. Teams identify how to improve a concept or solve a problem, which naturally progresses into a prototype for a new solution. For those of you who are unfamiliar or rusty with design thinking, here is a brief synopsis of the 5 steps 
      1. Empathize – Research and deeply understand the problem
      2. Define – Clearly define and state the problem
      3. Ideate –Generate possible ideas for the problem
      4. Prototype –Come up with three implementable solutions
      5. Test – Choose one to test.
  3. Implementing a Growth Mindset: While it might’ve seemed like a given that resilience and growth mindset would come hand in hand, many companies struggle with this. The blame game or even the fear of failure can paralyze a person or an organization into a fixed mindset, or one that is incapable of learning from their failures. 
  4. Emphasizing a Team Culture: Lastly, no one wants to feel alone when things do not go as planned. Encourage team members who have recently failed to work in a team setting to break down the problem and understand it. Naturally, team members can share their learning stories too. It is important to emphasize that when an employee falls, their team will be right there to pick them back up. 

The learning curve of life is really a circle, not a line. Resiliency won’t come to you in one day, nor will it magically appear on your team, too. It is like building a muscle…it will be sore at first when you use it, but the more you work out and train, the stronger it will get. Failure. It appears to be such a powerful word…Failure is merely a concept, a mistake, a blip. In reality it is just learning.  Resilience is a way of being, a strength, a survival skill. Focusing on this state of being will make failure become just that – a word!

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