Failure Fridays

As for so many teams, the unexpected transition from sharing a physical space to working entirely remotely back in March was challenging in many ways. Not everything went perfectly, but one of the things my team did a great job of was celebrating each others’ successes. This happened both casually and with structures in place for us to celebrate the great work we and our teammates were doing.

But we didn’t do the same for our failures. This makes sense. It’s not intuitive to consider celebrating your failures, and so we didn’t put structures in place to do so formally.

When we worked in offices, it happened casually. Maybe not celebration, but awareness. I make faces at my code when it’s not behaving (and definitely have teammates who do as well). Even if I sent a teammate a direct message in chat asking if they had time to help me with something, which hasn’t changed since the switch to remote, it used to be that when they agreed, the whole team could see us working together, unblocking each other.

None of that is visible remotely. Nobody sees the faces I make at my screen. Nobody knows when I reach out to a teammate for rubber-ducking or pairing on a blocker or a second opinion on a design I’m considering. Nobody hears two other teammates complaining about the API that just isn’t doing what they expect on their way to the kitchen.

And what you don’t see…well. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re the only one who spends two hours hunting down a typo or following a design down the wrong path.

We started doing what we’re calling “Failure Friday” a few weeks ago. We have a reminder set up in slack to ping our dev channel and remind us to share a failure, big or small, resolved or not.

I reached out individually to all the other senior engineers on my team to make sure they all participated consistently, at least the first few weeks, because it’s especially important for our earlier career teammates to see us fail too.

And so far? It seems to be working (as much as you can say that about something with no pre-defined success metrics). People participate. People commiserate. They’ve, anecdotally, said it helps them feel less alone, less like an imposter.

That feels like success to me.