Bouncing Back from Failure: Leading Your Team through Troubled Times

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

In the business world, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to set goals, how to keep employees motivated, and what it takes to reach success. It is important to stay focused on the positive, but the reality is the road to business success will be fraught with failures. As we work to expand our businesses and run them effectively, we will face both individual and team setbacks. When you fail to meet a goal, when the golden idea flops, or when a valued member of the team chooses to leave, how do you keep morale up and the team moving toward progress?
Remember How Far You’ve Come
According to the US Small Business Administration, about 80% of all small businesses survive their first year. Five years later, that survival figure drops to 50% (2018). If your company has made it past five years, congratulate yourself and your team on beating the odds! If you have not yet hit this milestone, know you are not alone in your challenges. Placing a failure within the bigger picture of your business’s story will keep people from dwelling on the setback.
Failure is a Learning Opportunity
Imagine you invest considerable resources into developing a new product, but after its first quarter on the market, sales are dismal. The numbers are so bad, the team has to decide if it is even worth continuing to sell, or if they should cut their losses and drop the product altogether. Discouraging though such a time may be, the learning opportunities can be invaluable. Invite your team to retrace their steps through the development process and identify decision points where things went wrong. Perhaps they rushed the market research and did not adequately understand demand for the product. Maybe they failed to meet a deadline and a competitor beat them to the punch. Or—and this can be the most difficult scenario—maybe you as their leader gave a misdirection that impeded the team’s progress. Such conversations will require individual accountability for mistakes, but it will also help the group avoid repeated issues in the future. Any setback in business can be a learning experience, if you teach your team to see it that way.
Accept Help
A recent study found that 92% of small business owners feel that mentors directly impact their business success (Harrison, 2018). Sometimes when things go south, it takes an outside voice of reason to get people back on track. Drawing support from friends and mentors with experience in your industry can be the key to navigating troubled waters. They will bring the expertise needed to fix the failure without the emotional hang-ups that might cloud the judgement of people directly involved. They can also serve as neutral parties able to diagnose the problem and resolve disputes in an unbiased way.
We at NiteHawk wish you well, through both your successes and your setbacks. Feel free to contact us with questions at… NiteHawk Sweepers
Harrison, Kate. 30 Oct, 2018. New study reveal entrepreneurs need more mentoring. Available at
US Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. (Aug 2018). “Frequently asked questions about small business.” Available at