For the handful who haven’t seen the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, it tells the story of an arrogant TV weatherman, Phil, who is doomed to relive the same day – Groundhog Day – over and over again, until he learns from his experience and uses the opportunity to be a better person.
If your non-profit has ever made the same mistake more than once, you can relate to Phil’s frustration that nothing ever seems to change, and no one else seems to notice.
To help you avoid feeling like Phil, we’re offering a few tips and tools that will help you learn from your mistakes, rather than repeating them.
1) Conduct a Post-Mortem
When an intense project is finally finished, it’s tempting to raise a toast with team members, leave behind all the stress associated with it, and move on to the next project. But we believe that no project is complete until you’ve completed the post-mortem analysis. We recommend something simple and fun, such as a Plus/Delta game with the team. Keep the meeting short – no more than ½-hour, if you can – and provide refreshments. An effective Plus/Delta exercise will allow you to capture ideas for improvement in a positive frame when you ask “What did we like and how can we make it better?”
2) Update your Playbook
Oftentimes, a post-mortem will identify weaknesses in the templates you use to convey information. One colleague related an experience from a particularly stressful fundraising event. “During the post-mortem, it became clear that the reason we’d had so much trouble with document version control was because a few of the volunteers didn’t fully understand how to use Google drive. We had assumed prior knowledge, and our PowerPoint slide addressing it in the initial meeting simply identified it as the place to store and access documents. So, we added a slide to our template that covers editing and commenting on documents, and when we see this is new information for team members, we schedule a learning session to ensure everyone knows how to use it effectively.”
3) Celebrate Failure
A wise man once said, “How do you know where the edge is, if you don’t step over it every now and then?” In other words, innovation requires risk, and organizations that fear failure are doomed to mediocrity. How do you encourage responsible risk-taking? During his tenure as President of the Hewlett Foundation, Paul Brest created an internal prize in which staff competed for “Worst Grant of the Year” as a means to kick-start conversations and learning from less-than-successful initiatives and projects. In fact, a growing number of grantmakers are re-orienting their perspective on failure as fertile ground for learning.
Groundhog Day serves as a reminder that making mistakes is inevitable, but learning from them requires humility and a light heart.
LightBox Collaborator Renee Alexander prides herself on making new mistakes with great frequency and aplomb.