Some Advice for the Next Libspill Hopeful: How to Bounce Back From A Major Failure at Work

Some Advice for the Next Libspill Hopeful: How to Bounce Back From A Major Failure at Work

This article was originally published on Medium

Like Dutton/Turnbull, chances are at one time or another we’re going to find ourselves on the wrong side of failure. We all experience setbacks from time to time; some sting, some hurt. And then there are those blindsiding, jaw-dropping moments in our careers where we went out on a limb, and- for whatever reason- that limb wasn’t strong enough to hold us.

The trick is knowing how to recuperate and recover.

So I’ve put together a helpful guide for the next libspill hopeful- something we can all learn from- a way to support the team through most trying of times and to come out all the stronger for it.

Acknowledge The Risk Before You Go In 

Not one for hindsight, it’s best to understand the likelihood of failure before we dive in. George Bell, five-time CEO- writes that being explicit about the risk of venture failure makes the possibility less intimidating, and actually has the effect of making success more likely.

Obviously these things aren’t always hugely predictable, but if you have an idea that success is not the likely outcome, you can protect your team by acknowledging it. Chances are they’ve figured it out for themselves anyway, but acknowledging it helps show that you’re on the same page, and also makes a potential success even more enticing.

Provide Support During the Venture

The two most critical things to communicate to your team are your faith in them, and that failure of the venture will not be held against them personally. This means that they will be able to take the leap you want them to, without compounding the stress of the project with stress about how failure might impact them personally.

Feeling supported was identified by famous psychologist Abraham Maslow as crucial for exploration, and the corporate world is no different. Before we can strive for higher ideals, basic needs of support need to be met; otherwise, we have no ground to stand on.


Debrief Like a Boss

Say the proverbial feces hits the fan. Things got messy. Malcolm won the challenge that you instigated. The leadership we show during this time sets the tone for how our team also deals with failure. Casting blame, catastrophizing the situation, or losing our cool doesn’t reflect well on anyone, or help at all. This is a crucial moment for us and our team, where we can either grow together or fall apart.

There can actually be a few different parts to the debrief process, as outlined by Better Health Channel, depending on the circumstance.

The ‘demobilisation’ technique is usually used after a critical stress incident- e.g., if a surgery patient were to be lost on the operating theatre. But if even if it’s not in such a dire situation, if the a failure has left the team reeling and feeling overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of the situation, then it’s a good idea to practice this technique.

A demobilisation meeting for those who were involved in the incident should take place as soon after the incident as possible, and definitely on the same day or shift as the stressor occurred. It’s purpose is to calm the team and address any immediate psychological needs.

Important parts of the meeting are to first run through the incident as it happened, so that everyone is on the same page with regards to what the sequence of events were. It’s a time to invite questions, and show care and support. If need be, short-term work arrangements can be made, depending on the needs of workers- e.g., perhaps they could use a day off to recover, or a late start the next day to catch up on some sleep or practice other forms of self care.

A debrief is usually carried out within three to seven days after the incident, when we’ve had enough time to take in the experience. We can set the tone by introducing the agenda, and reminding everyone that the debrief is a non-judgmental place to share concerns, answer questions, and together learn what we can from the experience.

There are two major elements to be covered in a failure debrief; the first is to address any lingering psychological distress from the event. On this aspect, Better Health encourages the debrief to be facilitated by a trained individual, and to involve:

  • Clarifying the sequence of events
  • Discussing causes and consequences
  • Allowing individuals to share their own experiences
  • Discussing normal psychological reactions to acute stress incidents, and ways to manage them

The second part of the debrief can involve discussing what can be learned. It’s a good opportunity to break out the whiteboard markers, ask the hard questions, and brainstorm how things could be done differently next time.

As Bell writes, we should also make sure to examine our own role in the failure. Why did the venture fail? Was it customer experience? Do we look like a potato? Poor salesmanship? Did we take too long to make a decision, misread the situation, or were we poorly organised? Being a leader doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes. Sharing those mistakes can encourage others to also bring their own honesty to the table, and help to destigmatize the idea of failure.

Moving On

“Failure is not the opposite of success, it is the stepping stone to success.” Arianna Huffington

There will likely be another chance to succeed; to learn from those mistakes, and make it better next time. But as Emma Stewart, co-founder of Think Bold, writes,

“While (starting a new venture straight away) seems like the best idea at the time, and it’s a great distraction from all the hurt, it’s often very rushed, and you miss out on that all-important time of reflection and learning from the last experience in business. This is the biggest mistake you can make. You need to allow time to reflect on things.

It’s also important to give the team time and space to process the events and their emotions; rushing into the next venture with the bitter taste of failure still at the back of our mouth is not the best idea. The best way to know when it’s the right time is to check in with ourselves, first and foremost. Do we still feel burnt out? From there, the best way to get the idea of where the team is sitting is to simply ask them. Broach the idea of a new venture, and pay careful attention to the response- verbal or otherwise.

It will be the right time, again, soon. Just don’t rush it.

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