“Celebrate the good times” is the title of a famous song by Kool & The Gang. I remember singing it many times with my friends when I was an adolescent.
What does a song has to do with management?
Let us put it this way. As it is important that in our lives we celebrate good times along with “bad times”, so it should be at work because we always have a chance to learn something in both situations.
I have been working as a Coach and a Soft Skills Trainer for more than ten years so far and honestly I have heard very few managers telling me about the “experiments” they have celebrated. Unfortunately our life, both at work and at home, is mostly focused on avoiding mistakes and celebrating successful practices. But what about “experiments”?
Since the first time I have read about the celebration grid developed by Jurgen Appelo, what caught my attention was a new definition of the area of celebration. As in agile mindset, regardless if the outcome was a failure or a success, what we should celebrate is every opportunity for learning. This was the most important learning for me to as a professional trainer and coach. According to this new definition of what to celebrate, the “celebration area” become inevitably much bigger because we are not celebrating only what we expected or already knew, but especially what we didn’t know. It is when we try something out of the blue, from scratch, that we learn something, regardless of the fact that we succeed or not.
Obviously as human being – and organizations – we aim to minimize the amount of failure. It is a natural tendency. But if we want to face reality with a flexible and growing mindset, we should start looking at “failure” in a different way, as a source of learning. My opinion and what I have learned from this experience is that although in Agile we often talk about the importance of creating a “safe place” where to make mistakes, Celebration Grids is a very practical and useful tool that make this concept “real” and effective.
When I first introduce the celebration grid to a bunch of managers during one of my workshop, it was not so easy for them to get the real meaning of the learning curve. Regardless of our professional background, we are used to look at mistakes as something wrong and we tend to celebrate only success. Plus, in order to avoid failure we tend not to experiment. But childhood and agile organizations show us how important it is to experiment, how important continuous learning is. As individual and as organizations we are complex adaptive systems that can learn from their experiences in spite of their “pleasant or unpleasant nature”.
To make this concept very clear for participants I first made them play a simple 25 pieces puzzle. My idea was to make them experience the use and power of the celebration grid during an experiential activity. Then make them transfer their learnings into a “real” work situation.
They were divided into two different teams of four member each, and each group has to complete the puzzle. Then by using the classical restrospective questions, I have made them think about their experience and fill in the celebration grid.
What was really hard for them was finding concrete examples for the “experiments region”. It was very easy for both groups to start with the mistakes (i.e. someone said “we didn’t make any agreement about how to approach the puzzle pieces at first”) and to find the successful practices (i.e. “each of us looked at the borders’ shape of the puzzle pieces first”).
One of the participant came to realize that it was very difficult for him to find the “learning experiments” they had put in practices because when we are called to reach a goal in little time (as completing a puzzle in 4 minutes) our brain instantly relies on its usual way of thinking, its usual habits, shortcuts. Thus it is very difficult for us to “experiment” strictu sensu. Liked it or not, this is truth in both in our personal and professional life.
As managers what most of the participant came to realize was also the importance of being able to foster the development of an organizational context where it is “safe to fail”. It is true that we learn a lot from success; it is also true that we can learn much more from “failure”. It is not by chance that agility and resiliency have their roots in the capacity to look at any kind of experience in terms of an opportunity for learning, changing, growing. And again, this is true at an individual as much as at an organizational level.