IPMA International Project Management Association
4 July 2018 / 11:25

The right to failure as an invaluable success factor

The Soccer World Cup is still in full swing, the mockery and malice of teams that were eliminated in the preliminary round, such as the German team, breaks in. If it was predicted in advance that Germany would become world champion again, the reactions when the team was eliminated were all the stronger. There has been much talk of failure, disaster and embarrassment. The team quickly disappeared from the public eye, but had previously sent an apology to the fans and admitted mistakes.

In my view, however, the real disaster is how the public deals with such a situation. On the one hand, expectations of a team are raised to almost immeasurable levels. So in the case of the German team, everything not resulting in the world championship title is a disappointment. Encouraged by the media, the public accepts this opinion. The officials (in this case the German Football Association) also set no limits to the euphoria and transfer the high expectations to the team. The team fits in with its fate and is driven forward by expectations.

Then it comes as it must come. Failure is inevitable because the team is not perfect. The first doubts gnaw at the morale of the team, it acts anxiously and inevitably makes mistakes, the mistakes are of course commented from the outside and lead to further mistakes. All this sucks the energy and motivation, success may still occur in some situations due to luck, but fate inevitably takes its course.

The same happens in the world of projects. The question is, what can we do to cope with this effect?

First, we must accept that there is no perfection, that people make mistakes and that these mistakes are important for progress. A team that has been successful before (e.g. being the Champion last time) will have a much harder time repeating previous successes. The team will no longer be so “hungry”, there will have been changes in the team that will certainly have an impact on team performance. Frequent team changes will disrupt relations, interrupt established patterns and take time to get back on track.

Who’s to blame now? That, of course, is the completely wrong question. Everyone is involved in the development, the coach, the team, the officials and the public. A realistic assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats should have been made in advance. This is certainly a task for the officials, who must set this opinion-forming process in motion in good time so as not to get into the wrong waters. Furthermore, the merging of a team, the step-by-step performance, is a process that must be actively accompanied, errors must be identified at an early stage and patiently remedied. Mistakes are there not to make them again, to continuously improve the process. In this respect, simply more fault tolerance is required.

Is a team’s early elimination from the World Cup a disaster? Certainly not! Now it’s time to go back to the beginning, build a new team spirit, rediscover the strengths you thought you had lost and the thrill of success. We must all regain our ability to error. There is no motorway to success. Success results from frequent cross-country driving, unpredictable detours, repetition loops and errors. It is important to learn from them, to mature through them and ultimately to make them a decisive success factor.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.