Change to a Culture of Wrong

My daughter, when she was 7, was helping me teach an introduction to Agile class at a California university. She handed out markers and paper for the activities, but mostly sat and listened. After many hours of watching these classes, sitting around the dinner table, the family was talking about the classes and the function of a team as a single entity, rather than a collection of individuals.

She asked why so many people have trouble with failing. I told her all the stigma that we, as a culture, have placed on failing, and how, in general, people fear failure and do not view it as a learning experience that they should so that it would be viewed as a positive thing.  In her infinite wisdom, she looked up and said, “…Teams never fail. They find new ways to do things wrong.” You could have heard a pin drop as this statement sunk in and I worked this through.  And that my friends, is a Culture of Wrong, instead of failure.

She is completely correct, teams never fail. Teams try hard. Teams work through adversity. Teams give their best with what they have inside of the constraints at the time. Teams never fail. Teams that hit an obstacle and learn from the experience, will never fail. They will always grow and become more than the sum of their parts.

I teach teams to fail fast and fail to succeed. It feels counter-intuitive to many, but we cannot possibly grow without failure. If there is never a failure, the goals are too easy and too basic and the high performers on the team will move on to something more challenging. But instead of calling it failure, with the stigma that it instinctually creates, let’s say “wrong”, like “holding it wrong”. Those Scrum teams that are using the daily Scrums to basically just give a status report are not failing, they are just holding the ceremony wrong. The team that can’t seem to meet sprint goals is not failing, they are just estimating wrong.

Wrong can be fixed. There is a wrong way to go down the road, and it is easily corrected: Turn around. There is a wrong way to hold scissors, just flip them over. There is a wrong way to cook chicken on a stove, just do something differently. (I honestly couldn’t tell you how to do it correctly).

Failure seems so final. Wrong seems so easily addressed. Starting today, remember, your teams never fail, they just find new ways to do it wrong.