What does biology tell us about what it takes for people to be cooperative? Turns out one of the main ingredients of cooperation is a tolerance for failure. We won’t hang in there with one another through challenges and bumps along the way otherwise.
Learn more: This assertion comes from research psychologist Michael McCullough who directs the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory at the University of Miami. He works with social scientific research as well as emerging discoveries in biology and brain chemistry. He talks about the need for tolerance of failure in an interview for the radio show On Being about the subject of revenge and forgiveness.
In a way, it seems obvious. We fail ourselves and one another in little ways all the time. We’re late in responding to an email or we miss a meeting. Disagreeing is a form of failing – you fail to see it my way. If we can’t tolerate that, we won’t be willing to work together to even find common ground.
Cooperation and teams: Today’s workplace requires cooperation. In research looking at science and innovation, statistics show that levels of teamwork have increased across almost all fields. And the size of the average team has increased by about 20%. Interestingly enough, teams working with the greatest proximity to one another (within 10 meters) performed at the highest levels. Does seeing and knowing one another better make us more tolerant and understanding of failure?
Certainly, to create a good team you need a good measure of tolerance for failure. In fact, there’s a stage of predictable and normal team development that’s all about disagreement and failing to work well together. Remember the storming stage of Tuckman’s progression: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Re-forming?
Why failure? Seems to me if you can’t tolerate failure in one another, you won’t be willing to go stay engaged when you test each other, test assumptions, rules, and opinions, and test the leader. And a team can’t be very innovative that has little tolerance for failure.
I have no particular tactics or strategies for learning how to become tolerant of failure. And too much tolerance has consequences as well, as we see in teams where people aren’t held accountable either for results, or for acceptable behavior.
Maybe you start with yourself. A lot of leaders I work with are highly self-critical. Just for this week, pay attention to your level of tolerance for failure – your own or others’.