The Silver Lining around the Cloud of Failure

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BLUF – Shining light on your failure can lead to positive momentum and rally your team towards solving your next challenge.

When you are the lead for a wing-level project, you owe your wing commander timely and effective updates. I took on a project to develop a professional network program, of which I called Peer-to-Peer Networking Program (P2PNP) as an attempt to establish a framework that allowed Airmen to set up “Learning Mission” with mission partners around the base to have a better understanding of each other’s jobs and develop a more cohesive team. The key was that all Learning Missions required no management involvement, as the framework allowed the events to happen at the lowest level with minimal approval. I gathered a team of Airmen, NCOs, and CGOs to build and beta test the program based on our ideas on how the framework could be successful. Through a combination of online collaboration (read: SharePoint) and grassroots marketing (not top-down leadership directing mandatory participation), we pushed the program to the masses. Unfortunately, the program did not catch on as originally envisioned and no one participated in the program. Regardless, I was the lead for the project and owed an update. The following is the e-mail I sent to my wing commander:

Ma’am-
          BLUF: As an update for next month’s strategic map session, P2PNP is a failed experiment due to miscalculated motivation and lack of “highly recommended” participation.

  1. Our last conversation in March re: P2PNP revolved around targeting the right echelons to gain support for P2PNP participation. Our attempt at building organic momentum from within the NCO and CGO levels was working fine, yet the Airman level continued to struggle during the beta testing without top cover or motivation from their chain of command. We adjusted our strategy and I built a marketing package that was distributed in April throughout the following peer groups: Arctic Warrior Airman’s Council, Rising 5/6, Top 3, Shirts, Chiefs, Sq/CCs, and Gp/CCs. We even included a FAQ section that directly addressed who would be the primary beneficiary of the program (the participant, not the supervisor). My intent was to have leadership champion P2PNP within those peer groups to promote participation, as opposed to a top-down model where a quota would be established and everyone had to participate. Unfortunately, no momentum was built and the program has been stagnant as of mid-April.
  2. The original problem statement that P2PNP addressed was “How can leadership organically increase mission partner awareness to improve installation weapon system readiness?” I wanted to try something different than “play dates arranged by Sq/CCs” to allow the work to be deconflicted and executed at the lowest level within an established framework, and the experiment failed. P2PNP never rose to the spotlight like JBER Connect App or the Flight Leader course, but that was on purpose. IMO, the drive and ability to network w/your peers shouldn’t require top-down support or deconfliction; it should be inherent within a truly integrated team that seeks to understand each other to build an even stronger team. Regardless, I am confident that networking is still happening throughout JBER and those benefits will appear in the future. All of the P2PNP resources remain available online should someone else choose to resurrect them, and I recommend this task be removed from the overall strategic map plan.

                Regardless of the outcome, a big shout out to [Four Airmen] for the positive energy and participation. They understood the importance of learning about their mission partners and will be shining examples in our junior enlisted ranks. I’ll be coining them all for their great work and trust in my vision. Please lmk if you have any questions.

v/r
-gaberock

The next morning, this was the reply:

Thx, gaberock. Failures are read-outs from a run at success, and are valuable bc they uncover potential dead-ends/insights that may inform others. You have some important insights below that are worth sharing with the wing – why not brief at the next stand-up. Besides, we should celebrate the Airmen’s energy/enthusiasm/courage to experiment with a wild idea. Wild ideas always welcomed…

The gathered the four Airmen and we attended the usual weekly wing staff meeting with the usual suspects: Gp/CCs, Sq/CCs, Superintendents, Shirts, and Agency Chiefs. I gave the wing command and the audience a short synopsis of the failed experiment, as well as two lessons learned:

  • Sometimes when you try to get out of work, you will inadvertently cause yourself more work (hence me briefing).
  • Our Airmen have extremely good ideas. Some of them work, and some of them don’t, but it is important for us as leaders to allow them the freedom of maneuver to explore their ideas and see if they are successful. We have the opportunity to improve our team if give our Airmen the chance to shine, and even though the cloud of failure we can always find the silver lining: our Airmen who want to win.

The four Airmen were then coined by the wing commander (classic one-up move, hahaha), something that they told me afterward they weren’t expecting but extremely grateful for. I reiterated that I was the one who was grateful to work with them and I hope they keep that same positive energy in their current jobs and encourage their peers to keep trying to network and make the Air Force better. I have the utmost faith that this same energy is shared amongst the ranks, we just have to be brave enough to either win or learn.

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