Resilience: Cultures that Learn from Failure

Resilience is the ability to withstand disruptions and adversity and come back from them. This concept is getting more attention and research in many fields, e.g., city planning, climate adaptation, trauma healing, and individual well-being. Effective organizations welcome and learn from information on what is working and not working. Cultures and behaviors that punish failure can erode trust and stifle the open communication of concerns and feedback.

A core leadership skill and practice we use to learn from failures is reflective conversations. When things don’t go as planned, we need the ability to identify our own “mental models” to better understand divergent perspectives and outcomes. This process has its roots in the field of organizational learning, using the Ladder of Inference. In dialogue, we inquire into our own and others’ underlying assumptions, observations and interpretations. This kind of conversation can cultivate one’s openness to being wrong and use this as an asset to accelerate learning.

Another simple yet powerful practice is to take time as a team or community to ask: What did we learn from this? and really listen to each other. Using a listening circle, where all the voices are heard and multiple perspectives can come together, can be a way to crystallize learning and restore a sense of trust and coherence to a group after a disruptive experience.

Here are some other resources relating to creating cultures and practices that allow people and teams to learn from failure:

As we think of the unprecedented challenges we need to navigate with climate change and other trends, this quote from Carlos Menchaca feels appropriate:  “‪Resilience isn’t just about buildings and flood plans, it’s about people who know how to support each other.”

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