I don’t know anyone who likes to fail, or who experiences a serious blunder as a positive event, but there really is some truth in the old aphorism that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Here’s how organisations can use failures, such as missing a crucial deadline or not hitting important targets, to grow and get better.

It probably won’t help to be prematurely upbeat. Your team will be experiencing negative emotions such as disappointment, guilt, anger, the wish to blame, and so on; and so, very probably will you, if you’re a manager or leader.

This doesn’t mean that the best approach is to let people wallow interminably in a swamp of painful emotions, but it does mean providing some space and time for them. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, the journal’s contributing editor, Amy Gallo, explains that “…negative or neutral emotions are conducive to deductive reasoning, which means they can help your team more effectively process and analyse the failure. When you acknowledge the disappointment – with comments like ‘We’re feeling down’ or ‘This is tough for us’ – you’re not just stroking people’s emotions. You’re facilitating a critical appraisal of the situation.”

That’s the key to helping you and your team recover from a major setback. As a manager or leader, you’ll have an especially crucial part to play in this: it’s best not to conceal your own disappointment, and it’s certainly a bad idea to get caught up in personal blame games. If someone in the team has made a serious blunder, speak to them privately about how to avoid the mistake in the future. With the team, focussing on what’s to blame rather than who’s to blame will be far more productive and reparative.

A little time spent on the negative emotions is a gateway, not a cul-de-sac, and it opens onto critical appraisal, renewed team confidence and deepened team learning.

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