Stop using Failure Walls, use a Question Wall!

agile, blog, management30

I had a great idea last week Question Walls, let me share it with you.

I am working on a new book. It is a book about great teams. Describing what is needed to help teams to create value for their stakeholders. While doing research about team diversity and conflicts, there is a common theme popping up. Learning! Create an environment where teams can learn. Some of the books I read in the last months also focus a lot on learning. For example, The Living Company by Arie de Geus and The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. How to create teams and organizations that keep learning.

Do you know any kids that are 3-4 years? One thing they often have in common is asking Why. Why is the sky blue? Why is the milk not green? Why do chickens not fall when they sleep? They don’t know something or don’t understand something, and just ask why. For some reason, many people lose this curiosity when they grow older. Additionally, at one moment, they even feel ashamed to ask questions. What would other people not think about me if I admit I don’t understand this new product? 

Some organizations are using Failure Walls. Everyone can share a failure and their learning of that failure. It is there to show that making mistakes is ok—nothing to be ashamed of. I agree people should be able to try things out, run experiments. Learn from these experiments.

However, let’s be honest, would it not be sometimes better if people first asked how this product works? Or what is the policy to request a new component? A failure board is more of a lagging indicator. It shows the organization has learned things, but something went wrong. And again, nothing wrong with that.

If there is a lagging indicator, we should also be able to come up with a leading indicator. I believe the Question Wall is of the leading indicators in this case. Once a week, for example, get together with the team and discuss what was the best question asked that week. Which question created the most learning for the team. I believe good questions can result in fewer failures but still in learnings! 

How to use this new practice? Set up (virtual) Question Wall. People can add questions they got from colleagues to the Question Wall or add their own questions. Which question should be added? Questions that triggered learning! Who decides if there was learning? The people involved. It could be the person who asked the question or maybe the person who was asked the question. 

Set up your Question Wall, next to your Failure Wall. Have a leading and a lagging indicator on your team’s learnings. What other leading indicators do you use? Let me know, please!

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