Failure strikes everyone. We all have encountered failure at least once in our lifetime. But that’s not the difficult part.
The difficult part is to face up to that failure and see what went wrong. And then, to work backwards to understand the decisions and choices that led us to that unfavourable outcome.
But the even greater challenge is befriending that failure as a stepping stone to success. We have been taught how failures are the stepping stones and pillars to success. Yet we fail to apply that in our life.
We are so afraid of mistakes, failures and challenges that we give up even before trying.
We let the fear of failure colour our actions. We feel disheartened by failures. We cower back as soon as we fail.
But we never face up to it.
The Failed Teammate
A few months back, I encountered failure too. I failed as a teammate. But it took me a while to realise that I would continue failing if I don’t own up to my mistakes.
Remember Peter Pan? The naive escapist who never grew up?
He took the easy way out to escape difficulties. He never learnt from his past, for he forgot them as soon as it was over. He was always so full of himself that he failed to notice anyone else.
Peter was incapable of growth.
Remember how one night he was crying because he couldn’t stick back his shadow. But the moment Wendy stitched it for him, he cried—“Oh, how clever I am!”
He completely ignored the fact that it was Wendy who had sewn his shadow back!
I admit, I was a Peter Pan.
At least, I behaved like one during our internship. An entire team worked to brush up our articles, but when they were published, we all danced up and said—“I wrote it. It’s my work!”
We forgot the idea was someone else’s. We forgot the work was edited. We forgot we didn’t click the pictures.
We forgot we were a team.
We took everything for granted. We failed to realise how lucky we were to be able to work in such an eminent organisation. We never took the job seriously and failed to deliver what was expected of us.
The reason was that we hadn’t earned our place in the organisation. And hence, neither could we value it.
A diamond, no matter how precious it is, if we don’t earn it, we never understand its real worth.
That’s what happened with us. We had found the diamond. But we didn’t earn it. So, we failed to value it.
And we ended up losing it altogether.
Throughout the internship, we kept missing out on the idea of working as a team. We took the boat out into the sea but didn’t row in the same direction. Our Captain managed to keep the boat afloat in spite of us, but the concept of teamwork was lost on us.
We failed to demonstrate effective teamwork.
Effective teamwork is ensured when the team members trust, motivate and rely on one another. A team can only function efficiently when they have set goals with a clear path of achieving them and when they know their specific roles within the organisation.
Every person in a team has different strengths—different skills, experience and expertise. Teamwork succeeds when each of the team members acknowledge that they need to bring their strengths together to produce their best work.
Studies show that more than one-third of employees prefer teamwork to individual work. In many organisations, efficient teamwork accounts for an increase in productivity, raising profits by almost 29%. Moreover, effective communication and collaboration within the team is reported to have reduced employee burnouts to a great extent.
But when the team members are unwilling to cooperate or commit to a common goal, teamwork suffers a huge dent. And that’s what happened with us.
We were so keen on working solo that we refused to work for a shared goal. None of us wanted to walk our way up the stairs step-by-step. We wanted the easy way up. We wanted to take the lift and take it alone. Every one of us was trying to find the short-cut to success.
And hence, we ended up competing within our own team—everyone trying to outshine the other!
And in the process, we forgot that teamwork isn’t about “me”, it’s about us. Our work failed to reflect any sign of team spirit. We were all working solo within the same team—lost in our own world of self worth!
To a theatre audience, it would have appeared like four actors putting up four separate acts on a single stage. They were playing their individual roles well; but the audience has no clue who to focus on… Or what to make of the performance, either!
And the director sat flabbergasted at the team’s immature act!
Sounds funny? It’s not, actually. It was a disaster. A leader’s worst nightmare!
Evidently, our Boss had the worst experience with us. All she wanted was for the interns to add value to the organisation. All we did was to drain its resources. We just took and gave nothing in return. And to top it all, we acted like a bunch of people, not a team of interns.
While expressing the difference between a group and a team, Bonnie Edelstein, a consultant in Organisational Development, said—“A group is a bunch of people in an elevator. A team is also a bunch of people in an elevator, but the elevator is broken.”
Although it’s an oversimplified approach, but it effectively highlights a team’s responsibility and dedication towards achieving specific goals by working together towards a common direction.
But we were nowhere near the definition. We were all together in an elevator, but pretended that it’s not broken at all!
What’s more, we lacked in our communication skills too. For the time we were together, we didn’t make any effort to bond with one another. We didn’t even collaborate once with our peers. We didn’t feel the need to acknowledge the differences between us and find ways to pull together our individual strengths to produce better work.
In our quest to succeed alone, we failed to lift one another.
All we wanted was to work one-on-one with our Boss. So, instead of our peers, we bothered our boss with every little thing we needed. But then, it can’t be called collaboration in the strict sense of the term. We were working with someone whose skills and experiences are much higher than ours—it wasn’t obviously an equal contribution.
And yet, everyone wanted to take the sole credit for the work produced!
In a perfect business world though, 81% of the employees willingly participates in peer collaborations and 91% of them nourishes honest communication.
Peer collaborations not only increase organisational productivity by a huge percentage but also increase employee satisfaction to a great degree. Plus, studies show that collaborative principles also lead to effective communication within the team; increasing productivity and reducing work stress.
For many such reasons, employees who work in a team are reported to have served the organisation better; and in the course of time, had become indispensable members of the team.
But that wasn’t the case with us. We had let the organisation serve us.
But when it was our time to serve, we cocooned in. We were so scared of facing challenges, making mistakes and encountering failures that we chose to hide behind the curtains rather than facing the storm head on.
When the sea turned rough and the Captain called out to us, we didn’t respond. We kept rowing in our own direction until we all fell into the sea and waves washed us off.
The Captain stood watching us with disappointment in her eyes. She had seen the potential in us and wanted us on her team. But now she regretted her decision. She felt disappointed to be surrounded selfish people who just saw her as a means to achieve their own dreams. She regretted believing in the ones who never believed in her.
So when the waves washed us away, she let us go. She has to save her boat that she had herself built from scratch. She can’t let people stay if they keep poking holes into her precious boat, when they were asked to keep it afloat.
And so she had to walk away…
Ratan Tata once said: “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.” All of us wanted to walk fast; none of us thought of walking together. Perhaps that’s why we couldn’t walk very far; we were left alone in the path. We felt the bitter taste of failure.
In our quest to win alone, and win no matter the cost, we lost everything.
And that was when we realised our mistake. But it was too late. The internship was over. And so was the organisation’s trust in us.
We had crossed all the boundaries of unprofessionalism.
I Owe You
Blame it on our privilege, immaturity, inexperience or an aversion to authority, but one thing is for sure, we lacked professionalism.
We failed to follow the instructions of our leader and just ended up demonstrating a selfish and irresponsible attitude. We were too busy basking in self-importance to notice the true hero of the show.
We had let our ego drive us.
It did hurt when we were shown the mirror to our flaws. It’s never easy to face up to our shadow and digest the bitter truths about ourselves.
But then, the truth always sets you free…
Maybe that’s why towards the end of the book “Small Fry”, Steve Jobs kept telling Lisa—“I owe you one.” He had finally realised and accepted the truth about himself.
And when he said he owes her one, he wasn’t talking about money; but about the father he failed to be. He owed her his love, care and affection. He owed her a father…
So, that’s what I want to say to my team now—“I owe you!”
I owe you my hard-work, time and dedication. I owe you the services that I failed to deliver in the past. I owe you the benefits of my contribution. I owe you an efficient and supportive teammate.
And I owe you a Wendy—the selfless girl who worked behind the scenes to keep the ball rolling at front. All this while Wendy has been stitching back my shadow… it’s time for me to do that for my team now.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to turn their passion into profession. Not everyone gets second chances. Not everyone gets the opportunity to serve the organisation where they feel at home.
And if ever I get the chance, I will work hard to be a worthy teammate.
Perhaps the transition will take some time. But I will get there eventually. Till then I will wake up every morning with the promise to stand strong by my team.
For I am done being Peter Pan.
I am done evading my duties. I am done being the person who shares the rewards without taking the responsibility of the task. I am done walking down the path paved in gold without playing any role in creating it.
And I am done with my ego.
Now I want to be the one who brings her best works for the team. I don’t care if that means working twice as hard. I don’t care if I have more work backstage as long as it benefits the organisation.
I pledge my loyalty to the team.
And I promise to stay committed and do everything it takes to be a valuable teammate. I just wish to be together in this journey again. I no longer wish to be the solo performer on stage.
For deep down, I know who the real magic behind the show is.
It’s definitely not me. I am just a tiny piece of a huge puzzle. I am not the whole puzzle. But I do have some talents. And if I can direct them to serve the organisation, I can make this tiny puzzle piece count too.
And for that if I have to stand up and face up to my failures, I will. I let go of my ego, my fear and my immaturity. I bid the escapist in me a happy adieu. It’s time to serve.
Peter Pan never grew up. But I will. For I definitely owe that to my team.
And to myself, too.