How ‘Safe to Fail’ is ‘Safe to Grow’


Here’s the Paradox. We need safety to trust, and this helps us grow. But to grow we also need to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone. We need to step away from doing the very thing that makes us feel safe in the first place.

This risk of failure creates an inevitable gap that we need to acknowledge and overcome; the space in between what we know now and what we don’t yet know but will learn in the future. In other words, a creative tension.

Making it safe within yourself

We need to create awareness of our own internal system. Interestingly, however, it’s our own mechanism for survival that often keeps us from making the change. Your survival mechanism is a learned behaviour usually developed in younger years that you believed to be helpful. And potentially has been helpful in different situations, however may not be needed in the same way when it comes to work.

A perceived unsafe situation at work, for example, may be one where there is judgement, group-think or where you are told to do something in a certain way and not invited to think for yourself. In my experience my own survival mechanism at one time would have been to walk away or withdraw myself from the situation. As I grew into adulthood, however, I found it didn’t serve me anymore. I now aim to challenge myself and my survival mechanism whenever I feel unsafe, and rather than dis-engage or walk away, focus on staying in contact and be present instead. It turns out staying in contact means I can act in the moment and have an open dialogue with my colleagues. Although it makes me feel vulnerable each time I do, it is more effective. I can act and be a part of it rather than sitting back and letting the change wash over me.

Safe to fail

Making it safe within teams

We will only change the system in teams if we are first prepared to act, make the decision and change the system within ourselves. During this process of change we need to hold the space as a team for growth. Create psychological safety. A learning environment where it’s safe to fail. A sense of confidence the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up. A safe place to practice a skill that feels somewhat unfamiliar.

Steps on creating an environment where its safe to fail:

The 6 steps you can take towards creating a safe environment to fail, learn and grow are:

  1. Find out what your flight path is and why?
  2. Voice the new skill you would like to practice
  3. Create psychological safety as a team
  4. Find support from a trusted advisor
  5. Focus, one step at the time
  6. Lead by design and practice by doing

In my next set of blogs I’ll discuss each step in detail and share my thoughts on how to achieve each one. Because in creating an environment where its safe to fail, we’re creating an environment where its safe to learn and grow.

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