No matter how hard you try, sometimes you and your team fail.
Yep, mistakes happen.
And your immediate thought: We can’t let that ever happen again.
But sometimes it does.
It doesn’t have to. There’s a new way, backed by research, to recover from both team and individual setbacks.
Take a different look
In “counter-factual thinking,” you imagine alternatives to what’s happened. No, it’s not always pretty. But it’s insightful and promises to ease some pain from the failure and quickly get you into a position to do better.
In Harvard Business Review, Northwestern University professor Neal Roese offered these five ideas on how to turn setbacks and outright failures into wins.
1) Imagine a better outcome: Part 1
When you review the failure, you can’t just say that reaching the original goal is the “better outcome.”
Instead, focus on specific actions throughout the project. What are the alternatives to each and where would have they landed you?
2) Imagine a better outcome: Part 2
Researchers found that when you challenge yourself to think of another positive outcome, you can overcome “hindsight bias” – a natural tendency to fixate on one idea as the be-all end-all.
Exploring just one better outcome can make you over-confident in your assessment of the setback. The second alternative helps you avoid attributing the failure to a simple, one-off mistake.
For example, imagine if your team set the goal and pace, rather than following the normal process. Would they have been more vested and reacted faster when they fell behind?
3) Imagine a different path . . .
It should be a different path that leads to the same outcome. Call it your “even if.”
Example: You might say, “Even if we set more, small goals, we would’ve had to keep up with our other responsibilities and missed the goal.”
This helps you recognize obstacles you didn’t anticipate, notice or articulate along the way. Now you have a means to figure out how to overcome them (perhaps delegate outside your department).
4) Imagine the same path . . .
This one needs to be the same path that leads to a different outcome. Chart your path and imagine how it could have led to a better and worse outcome.
For instance, imagine you kept that early on-target pace. Everyone worked as expected and you hit your goal early. Now imagine you kept pace, half your crew got the flu and the team never had time to recover from the setback.
This step is a reality check: You’ll recognize that the same steps could lead to different endpoints. So you must recognize, respect and try to prepare for outside forces in the reboot.
5) Imagine a worse outcome
This is a part-feel-good, part-preparation tactic. Note a worse outcome (for instance, missing the quantity goal by even more) and what you did right to avoid it.
Then look at what worked and when. That will broaden your view of what happened – and what needs to happen in the next go-round.
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