How Did This Happen?

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The team leaders were gathered in the conference room. Everyone was in good spirits because a complex and long-term project had been completed with excellent results. I walked into the room with the sternest look I could muster. Standing in the doorway I scanned the room, watching as the smiling faces slowly lost their luster. As I walked to my seat I demanded “How did this happen?” There was much confusion and sudden anxiety among the team leaders as they wondered how I could be upset with such a big success.

There was a massive sigh of relief when I relaxed and told them that I was very happy with what they had done and proud of their efforts. But, we still needed to ask ourselves how this happened.
And yes, I have a somewhat warped sense of humor.

It’s common to do a deep post mortem when things go wrong or failure happens. Gathering the facts to determine what went wrong and how to prevent future problems is important. We learn from our failures.

How come we don’t put as much effort into learning from our successes? It’s just as important to capture lessons learned when things go well. And it’s certainly more fun. In our meeting everyone had a chance to describe what worked well and to recognize team members who had been instrumental in making good things happen. This discussion also revealed some excellent inter-team cooperation that I hadn’t been aware of.

Nothing ever goes smoothly all the time and great success comes only after overcoming obstacles. That’s why, in the process of identifying what went right, it’s also important to identify what obstacles your teams had to overcome. Asking team leaders to identify those obstacles and describe their solutions provided an opportunity to for others to learn while also allowing those leaders to bask in the glow of success.

Whether the news is good or bad, it’s still important to learn by asking, “How did this happen?”

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