Want an effective team? Allow your members to fail.

There is a blue sky and yellow sandy desert, with the picture taken at an angle. A man wearing a blue shirt and red hat is leading nine camels. Each camel is being ridden by a rider, with the fifth rider being accompanied by a person on foot.


In their article in Leadership Quarterly, Hirak et al., explore the role that leaders have in creating spaces that allow their teams to experience psychological safety around failure, an environment that allows for future growth. 


Based off of research within the field, the study authors are looking at how confronting problems and training employees in error management, work systems can:

  • Reduce accident rates​
  • Reduce risks of serious failures
  • Cultivate crisis preparedness
  • Improve performance outcomes (service quality, adaptability, innovation, and productivity) 

The preliminary findings from the research show that leaders who are inclusive increase the psychological safety within their teams, allowing for learning from failure and subsequent performance improvement. The researchers highlight work from Carmeli and Shaeffer (2008) which found that learning from failures is essential as the feedback from the failure a team experiences can allow for change that helps the team adapt to future challenges. 


What does learning from failure look like? The authors describe this practice as “When unit members reflect on a failed experience, openly discuss why it occurred, and identify the work patterns that need to be modified or changed in order to eliminate the root causes of the problem.”


With this background in mind, Hirak et al. list the following three hypotheses:

  1. Learning from failures mediates the relationship between unit psychological safety climate and subsequent unit performance
  2. Leader inclusiveness is positively related to individual psychological safety
  3. There is a positive association between leader inclusiveness with member psychological safety perceptions 

The researchers gathered 224 unit members and 55 work unit leaders from a hospital in Israel for the study. At time one, they surveyed Unit Performance, Leader Inclusiveness, and Unit Psychological Safety. At time two, after four months unit members were surveyed on learning from failure. And at time three, after another two months, senior management was asked to evaluate unit performance. 


The results of the study found that leader inclusiveness was positively associated with the unit members’ psychological safety at an individual level. At the same time, unit psychological safety was also positively associated with the units being able to learn from failure at time two. And lastly, the senior manager’s ratings were also linked positively to units learning from failure. 


Data from this research showcases that leader inclusiveness promotes unit psychological safety, therefore increasing unit growth and performance. 


As coaches, modeling openness, accessibility, and leadership will allow your clients to exhibit their own voice in conversations. This in turn can help them model this same behavior for their teams. Research in the space of psychological safety is showcasing how important the environment is for team productivity and performance, along with individual mental health. Coaches can assist in guiding leaders towards fostering workplace environments that achieve these conditions for workers. 


If you would like to read the full article, you can find it here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S104898431100172X?via%3Dihub

In the center of the frame in bold red letters, the quote by John Quincy Adams "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader." This quote is accompanied by the Institute of Coaching’s Logo, a red shield. The shield is in the lower center of the image.


IOC's Tips of the Week are authored by Austin Matzelle