Leading Your Team through the Balance of Success and Failure

Balance ScaleFinding the right balance between how you handle success and failure makes a tremendous difference in how motivated (or unmotivated) your team members are. There are some simple techniques for celebrating success and dealing with failure. Apply them and you’ll find your team is happier and more effective.

When you lead a high performing team, you’ll face plenty of situations where you’re dealing with success and failure. Success and failure are part of running a team day to day. You need to recognize and promote “wins” because it’s going to build momentum for the team and make them feel like they’re accomplishing great things. When they fail, you need to accept that failure as a learning opportunity and help the team grow.

Celebrating Success

In terms of celebrating success, there are a lot of great ways to acknowledge success. You can give people bonuses, provide them visibility opportunities, or ensure there’s public recognition of their efforts. You can give people increased responsibilities and even promotions. All of those are very effective ways to celebrate the success of your team members.

But remember, just because you think something is valuable doesn’t mean the team member will. You need to understand what personally motivates them, and then reward them accordingly. Because if you’re not thoughtful about it, something you think is a reward is going to be horrible from that person’s perspective.

For example, imagine you have someone on your team who is very introverted. They do a great job and you want to reward them. You decide that you’re going to celebrate their success by putting that person on stage in front of a large audience. You then tell them “Here’s your great opportunity to shine and share your initiative with 50 people in the room!” That introvert might really hate that situation and they’ll feel very uncomfortable. Even though you thought you were rewarding them in celebrating their success, you’ve turned it into a bad experience.

Perhaps you have somebody who’s very happy in their current role. They like their level of responsibilities because it allows them to have a proper work/life balance. You notice they’re doing a great job and you want to celebrate that success. You decide to give them a promotion with more responsibilities. Now they’re pulling their hair out!  They’re very stressed out and unhappy because they really enjoyed their old role, and that wonderful promotion you gave them is more of a punishment than anything else.

As you’re thinking about celebrating success for your people, put yourself in their shoes and ask “What would this individual really value?” Be sure you communicate their success to the rest of the team. It helps build momentum, and creates a culture of winning among those team members. People will feel proud to be associated with teammates who are doing such great things.

Working through Failure

As much as we like to celebrate success, there are going to be failures. They’re not fun and they can derail a team if you don’t handle that failure well.

When there is failure, the first thing to do is avoid blame. Turn the situation into a learning opportunity. This failure is not about the individual. This is not personal. This is about behaviors and choices we made that didn’t work out well. Find the opportunity to turn those moments into lessons learned. Think through how future actions can be taken that will help you avoid these failures the next time around.

There are a few principles for dealing with failure. First, fail as a team. Deconstruct the failure, and understand what the root causes were. Identify all the places where the team could’ve improved. Understand if it was a process failure or failure to share information from one team member to another. Try to never make the failure about the individual. Instead, look at the processes the team is following and where those broke down.

Even when there’s failure, praise people for taking a risk. We should always be making risk/reward trade-offs. If you’re not encouraging people to take risks, you’re going to create a risk averse culture where people are paralyzed and won’t make decisions. If they’re not making decisions, you’re not going to get the upside of them taking action. When you talk about failure, help people appreciate the situation. That conversation might sound like this: “Here is the risk we took. Here’s what we thought the odds were. Here was the result and it didn’t work out well. In retrospect, here were the actual odds. Next time around, how do we do this better?” Praise the risk taking and think about how you can reduce the risk you face in future situations.

Finding the Balance

Your job as a leader, in terms of success and failure, is making sure you celebrate successes every opportunity you get. Do so in a way that’s going to be targeted to the individual you’re trying to reward. When there’s failure, avoid making it about the individual and instead, focus on, “What are the things that we as a team did wrong, and what can we do differently the next time?” Taking that healthy approach of striking a balance between success and failure will help you build momentum for your team and keep team members engaged and excited.

Want to learn more about this topic?  How about taking an entire course on it?  You can take the video-based course at in the comfort and privacy of your own home.  Go directly to the course now and start learning how to lead a high performing team.  Here’s a quick intro to that course:

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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Photo: balance by Hans Splinter

2 Responses to “Leading Your Team through the Balance of Success and Failure”

  1. Carl Friesen says:

    One way to reward team members — if they’re a subject matter expert, or want to be seen as such, support them in creating content that shows their point of view and their ideas. This might include coaching them through the design of a blog entry, article in a client-read publication or video. Then, provide them support on content creation, such as possibly providing a freelance ghost-writer to help them get their ideas into words on the screen. Any thoughts on this as a reward that also helps demonstrate thought leadership?

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      I think that’s a great idea Carl, as long as they have interest in doing that work. Thanks for the suggestion.

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