We all deal with technology, and most of us are innovating on some level. Reality is that sometimes, bad
things happen. To deal with those challenges and figure out the best path forward, we have to bring up
topics that might make people feel bad. Many humans are somewhat conflict averse; it makes us
nervous to report that recurring bug, or a slip in the schedule, or revenue numbers that missed the goal.
Conflict, or heading into perceived conflict, can make us nervous. In some teams, everyone just clams up
instead of communicating. When the team is conflict averse, it presents numerous challenges across
Does your Team have this Problem?
It’s easy to spot teams who are afraid of conflict and failure, if you watch them over time. Look around
during status updates. Do people seem uncomfortable? Are they reporting roadblocks and issues, or just
what’s been completed? If all the words are rosy, but eyes are diverted and folks are fidgeting….you
might have a problem.
Do you have meetings where everything seems fine, then leave the meeting and hear all the bad things? If people are coming to you in private instead of sharing issues with the team, you might have a
Have you ever been nearing a release, moving happily through your days with the belief that
everything’s on time…..only to discover that your product magically slipped six weeks, just a few days
before launch? If your team is quietly trying to make up time, instead of promptly reporting delays, you
might have a problem.
Crash the Barrier
If you’ve identified a problem dealing with failures and avoiding potential conflict, spend some time
considering how to crash through the barrier. My preference is to call an all hands team meeting, and
put the issue on the center of the table. Understand that people have their own issues! Maybe
someone’s been corrected for failure in the past. Maybe the team has a reputation of punishing the
bearer of bad news. Regardless, your goal will be to identify those perceptions and establish a new way
of going forward.
Be open and frank with your team. In order to succeed, we must have healthy communication. If there’s
a problem, the team needs to know so that we can manage expectations and perhaps lend a hand. We
are together for the sake of the product, and therefore have a responsibility to share, hear, and accept
both the good and the bad aspects.
Crash the barrier in an open and obvious way. Establish that the dynamic is changing, as of today.
Publish and Reward Failures
The fact is that if you never fail, you are not trying hard enough. When we’re working to make the
product, the team, and ourselves better, we will reach outside our comfort zone and eventually have a
misstep. That’s a positive occurrence! It’s how humans learn and grow.
Repeat this to your team, often if necessary. When you have personal failures or experience obstacles,
share those with your team too. In short, articulate and exhibit the behavior you’d like to see across
When a team member brings a difficulty forward, thank them for sharing it. Make it a point to ease their
discomfort and show appreciation for their communication.
If you exhibit this behavior and reward it in others, you will build a more open and accepting product
Negatives and Positives, for a Healthy Team…and Product
Just like real life, product innovation comes with both successes and failures – achievements and
roadblocks. To give your team and product the best chance at success, establish open communication
that equally embraces accomplishments and challenges.