Want to lead an innovative team? Ditch the blame game
Mistakes happen, they’re a natural part of the creative process. But if making a mistake sends your team members into a spiral of panic, then their innovative spark will be dampened. Instead of pointing fingers when things don’t go according to plan, learn from mistakes and move forward as a team. People will feel empowered to come forward before things snowball. Not only that, they’ll feel empowered to experiment and innovate.
None of us is a stranger to mistakes. Even knocking over a glass, forgetting a birthday card or burning dinner is enough to get our defensive instincts kicking. Big or small, when something goes wrong, we want to start pointing fingers.
What’s wrong with the blame game?
Imagine your team is lagging behind on a new product release. The month is nearing a close, and if you want to hit your departmental goal, you’ll need to pick up the pace quick. You tell the team to push, push, push, but additional delays keep popping up.
Naturally, you’ll want to know what went wrong. The first question you might want to ask is, “Who’s responsible?”
Most of the time, this isn’t a helpful question. The conversation goes back and forth, excuses are thrown around and at the end of a long, strenuous discussion, you’re none the wiser as to why your team fell short this time.
If no one feels able to openly reflect on the challenges they came up against, chances are your team doesn’t feel safe making mistakes. And that’s no good for innovation.
Don't cry over spilt coffee! Mistakes happen to us all. Instead of playing the blame game, learn from mistakes and move forward together.
When we’re exploring uncharted territory, things are bound to go wrong from time to time. What would you choose – a steadfast yet uninspired workforce who tread the same paths, or an innovative team who think outside of the box, even if that means things sometimes don’t go to plan? For us, the choice is clear.
In 2015, to a burning question for many leaders: ‘What makes a team great?’. After 200+ interviews in over 180 Google teams, they identified the quality underpinning successful teamwork: psychological safety.
When team members feel safe to take risks, be vulnerable and ask for help, then they work together much more effectively. The study found that psychologically safe teams brought in more revenue, are rated effective twice as often by executives, and tap into the diverse talent and perspectives on their team.
So, how do you foster that learning culture where your team feel free to experiment and innovate? And how do you encourage them to come forward when there’s a hiccup, before things balloon into something worse? Here are 4 tips to ditch the blame game, inspire inclusion and boost psychological safety on your team.
✅ Our Fair HQ tips on how to build a learning culture:
- Report your own mistakes, large and small.
- Be open about your own limits and tap into the expertise available on your team.
- Troubleshoot issues as a team and overcome hurdles together.
- Set aside time to discuss lessons learned with your team.
1) Consistently report mistakes, small and large, including your own.
To build a learning culture, you need to model openness from the top. Leaders need to set the norm. To do this, be honest about your own mistakes.
Here’s an example:
“On Monday, I accidentally sent out emails to some of our clients announcing the launch of our new app. I obviously got ahead of myself – the launch isn’t until next week! I didn’t take care to make sure I was using the correct template. My bad! It’s all resolved now.”
2) Be open about your own limits
If a team member is assigned a task that they’re not confident with, they may be afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing ‘in over their head’. However, if the leadership is willing to admit the limits of their abilities and knowledge, your team members will do the same.
When you find yourself faced with a conundrum that someone else on your team could tackle better, publicly ask them for help. Being vulnerable in this way encourages your team members to ask for support when they need it and to have each other’s back.
3) Discuss hurdles and how to overcome them together as a team
The next time you get a tricky question from a client or don’t know the best tool to use to unblock your developers, ask your team for advice. Troubleshoot the problem and overcome the hurdle together.
This is a great way to frame difficulties as a learning opportunity. Whenever your teammates run into difficulty, encourage them to contact the team and ask for advice. You’ll be able to harness the power of your team’s diverse expertise and move forward together.
4) Summarise lessons learned
Start to see mistakes as a positive sign rather than an evil to be eliminated. They offer you opportunities to learn.
In your weekly or fortnightly team meetings, set aside 10 minutes to talk about lessons you’ve learned this week as a team, big or small. It could be missing a deadline, failing to report a bug, or underestimating the effort required for a project. Just encourage your teammates to be honest so that you don’t fall into the same traps twice.
Sharing knowledge like this gives everyone the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences. Bake openness and learning into your team routines to boost psychological safety.
Remember, psychological safety is key to high-performing teams. If your colleagues feel safe taking risks, they’ll come up with more creative solutions. Start framing mistakes as a positive thing. After all, they’re a sign that your team is innovative.
Backing it up
Edmondson, A. C. (2018). ‘The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth.’ John Wiley & Sons.
Rozovsky, J. (2015) ‘The five keys to a successful Google team‘ Re:Work