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My manager told me to let my team fail.  I am reluctant to let that happen.  I don’t want to disappoint our customers or demotivate my team. Do you have any suggestions for me?



 Answer: When your manager tells you to “let people fail,” it’s likely meant to encourage you to empower your people, let go of the details, take a step back, and be willing to let your people mess up from time to time. If team members never get a chance to risk failure, you may be too protective of them. Failure can be a powerful teacher.

Your team won’t become fully competent and autonomous in their roles if you don’t allow them to make a decision or take a risk. By protecting them from failing, you’re also protecting them from succeeding.

We do recommend talking to your manager. Ask her for more details and direction about what “letting the team fail” looks like. Discuss and agree on what you’ll let your team take ownership of. Decide how much risk you’re willing to tolerate while you get more comfortable with this. Encourage your people to take some small risks at first.

When a team member makes a mistake or a poor decision or disappoints a customer, don’t immediately rush in to fix things. Give them some time to digest what’s just happened, and then ask questions, like:

• What happened?
• Was the result different than you expected?
• Why was the result different than you expected?
• What did you learn from this?
• What will you do differently next time this situation arises?

(It’s a really good idea to ask yourself these questions, too, to see if there’s anything you can learn as their manager.)

Then congratulate your employee on trying something new and for being willing to learn from the experience. Ask what risk they would like to take next, and let them know they have your support.


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