How to Help Your Team Fail Better

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The same playwright who wrote Waiting for Godot is also responsible for the widely adopted maxim "Fail better." It's got a weirdly optimistic bent that makes it appealing for managerial and entrepreneurial types. It's also good advice for helping instill confidence in your teams at work.

Psychologists at Rice University have just released a study looking at what encourages an employee to speak up in front of a supervisor. It can be a stressful experience, including when a manager doesn't really know how to tell that employee that they're wrong or that their idea isn't right for the project. The wrong kind of response can shut down a motivated worker, though, both in the present and going forward.

The researchers found that keeping things simple and compassionate is the best approach. "[I]t may be valuable to help employees understand that extenuating circumstances sometimes prevent implementation of potentially good ideas," said lead author Danielle King in a press release. "It also would be useful to provide justification for why complete explanations cannot be revealed for strategic or confidentiality reasons." The key is staying mindful of your employee and delivering your message in a sensitive manner.

We're generally averse to acknowledging problems on the job, but we all need good guidelines for talking about failure in professional settings. In fact, failing big can sometimes be the best thing for your career. When you have to deliver bad news of any magnitude, it helps to be direct. When we trust our supervisors because we know they trust us, everyone comes out ahead.