Failure Must be an Option


I have heard people say all my life, “Failure is not an option,” and today, I would like to challenge this belief and say that in order to succeed, failure must be an option.

One of the things you learn when training to be a coach is the art of deep listening.  When practicing this art with a team, the coach is listening to people and hearing what they are saying.  You also listen to things like tone of voice because much information can be heard in what is not said.  Changes in tone, pace and volume when they speak and the inflection in their voice can give clues to what the speaker is thinking and feeling.

The coach is listening for things like passion and energy when people speak, they are listening for things that reveal the teams core values, strengths and areas of weakness or greatness where probing questions can begin to push them to new levels or wider areas of thinking.

Another thing that the coach is listening for is false assumptions and any limiting beliefs that the team or individuals on the team may have that are holding them back from success or from breakthrough.  The belief that failure is not an option is an example of a false assumption or limiting belief that can hold a team back.  This belief undermines the scrum value of courage and needs to be broken in order for a team to become higher performing.

If a person or a team believes that failure is not an option, they may be unwilling to take risks that will enable them to succeed in big ways.  They may be unwilling to be innovative or try new ways of solving problems and will instead remain stuck in old thought patterns and safe ways of doing things even if those ways limit success or are not the best thing to do for the company, the team, or the customer.  Safe is better than failure because failure is not an option.

When the coach, or scrum master acting in the capacity of team coach, identifies that their team is stuck with a limiting belief and can’t seem to move forward, one technique to help them can be to ask powerful questions.

Powerful questions cause people to think outside of their normal thought patterns and step outside of their limiting beliefs.  They cause people to start to form their own solutions to problems which empowers them to take ownership of actions and moves them forward towards actually solving problems faster.

Powerful questions are curious, open ended questions that don’t try to push the listener (coachee) to a specific answer.  The job of the coach is not to trick the listener to the solution they have in their mind, but to just be curious and ask questions.  The answers of the listener set the pace – the listener is in the driver’s seat – the coach is just being so curious that the listener discovers new information through the questions being asked.

A few examples of powerful questions to break the limiting belief of failure not being an option might be:

What could you try?

What would an experiment look like?

What’s the worst that could happen?

What’s already working that you could build on?

How could you deliver success incrementally?

If it was safe to fail, what would you try?

Whose support would you need to try an experiment?

How do you know that failure is not an option?

Who do you need to ask for permission?

Who can help you succeed?

Who can clear the obstacles?

What do you need in order to feel safe to try something different?

What could you learn if you tried and failed?

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