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Positive error culture: Your way to more openness in the team

Reading time 8 minutes
Positive error culture: Your way to more openness in the team

Making mistakes is human. Every one of us makes them now and then - some more often, others a little less often. They are simply part of life, but nevertheless they are disreputable. Anyone who makes mistakes is quickly labeled as unprofessional, ill-prepared, cocky or naïve. If a mistake happens on the job, employees immediately fear consequences, e.g. in the form of a warning or even dismissal. But it is actually important to make mistakes, because we can learn a lot from them! Unfortunately, however, many companies do not believe in a positive error culture. And that is precisely one of the biggest mistakes they can make.

Demonizing every single small, unintentional misstep restricts employees from moving forward and, in turn, halts the progress of the entire company. Want to do better? Then be sure to read on!

What is meant by a culture of error?

Error culture is a term from the social sciences that very quickly found its way into economics. Since then, it is hard to imagine business without it. But what does it actually mean? The term error culture describes how errors are dealt with in a group or a company and what reactions follow.

Sure, mistakes are not welcome anywhere. But anyone who pursues a zero-tolerance policy risks a bad working climate full of uncertainties and fears. Nothing great can come of such conditions, because it takes courage to dare to do something new. But anyone who is always afraid of having to pay for small mistakes will refrain from doing so. The shame would be far too great if something went wrong.

Turn negative into positive!

Punishments and other negative impulses are the wrong way to go if the mistake was not intentional. It is true that employers want to ensure that employees work more attentively and carefully in the future and improve their performance. But often the opposite happens. Fear of consequences makes people nervous, and then they fail much more. So remember: If you punish mistakes harshly and do not lead a positive culture of mistakes, you force your employees into a crouched position and they work more and more cautiously, becoming more insecure and keeping their own ideas to themselves.

But even the best in the business make a mistake once in a while, and no one can rule that out 100 %. Unfortunately, keeping quiet about them doesn't help anyone. The only sensible way to deal with this is a positive error culture.

error culture definition

What is a positive error culture?

How the positive error culture works is almost self-explanatory. If you practice it, you have a positive attitude toward mistakes. Of course, this does not mean that you encourage all employees to make mistakes on a regular basis. It is more a matter of emphasizing again and again that it is not at all bad if mistakes happen. If mistakes do happen, they are discussed openly without anyone having to feel ashamed or even fear for their job.

Why it is important to make mistakes

We have already mentioned it: Mistakes are there to learn from them. Innovation is what moves a company forward, and that requires the courage to fail. If you're not willing to take risks, you'll be waiting a long time for the new project that finally brings the breakthrough. No one who has made it to the top has traveled his or her path completely free of mistakes.

There are always small setbacks, and it is precisely these that move us forward. We emerge from these situations stronger and smarter. We fiddle around with our idea until we can finally implement it successfully, and that is precisely the epitome of innovation.

10 tips to establish a healthy error culture in the company

It's the mistakes that drive you forward and lead your company to success. We have compiled ten tips for you to help you cultivate a healthy error culture.

1. analyze the current state

Before you can really get started with the error culture, you first have to analyze exactly where you currently stand. How do you currently deal with mistakes in your company? Are you already making an effort to talk about them openly or are you keeping them quiet? Which mistakes do your employees make at all and why is that the case? Do you record them and if so, how?

Once you have answered these questions, you will have a good overview to work on. Proceed step by step and give your employees the opportunity to understand your new error culture. In this way, you avoid making them feel suspicious and insecure about the change, even though you want to achieve the exact opposite.

2. design your new error culture transparently

Only employees who know where they stand feel secure and dare to come forward with new ideas. To make the introduction of the error culture as simple as possible, divide it into two levels: the factual and the emotional. First, start with the factual level and clarify how you define mistakes and which small slip-ups are not worth mentioning. Here you should clearly distinguish between professional, ethical and legal errors.

How they are to be communicated in the future is at least as important. Then there is the emotional level. Here, the main issue is whether it is a mistake that can happen to anyone once in a while, or a very clear omission.

3. take enough time for the first open conversations

Nobody likes to talk about their own mistakes, that's what makes us humans and our striving for Perfectionism out. It is precisely these taboo zones that need to be softened. For this you need a lot, especially at the beginning Patience and a lot of empathy.

Give your employees a sense of security and show them that talking about mistakes is not bad at all. There are no negative consequences, everyone can only win. Have a personal conversation with every single team member. Even if it takes a lot of time - it will be worth it. Only when everyone feels understood, taken seriously, and safe can you introduce a new error culture that makes the entire team pull together.

4. leave emotions out of the equation when the situation demands it

We have just talked about the fact that there is also an emotional level in the error culture. In some situations, however, you should put this to the back of your mind or ignore it altogether. This is especially true if one of the team members wants to sink into the ground in shame because he or she is so uncomfortable with the mistake.

Shift the focus from these unpleasant feelings to the factual level and look for constructive solutions together. The shame will quickly evaporate and relief will set in when you show that you are not angry at all, but want to make the best of the situation.

5. do not lose your sense of humor

Yes, mistakes are not necessarily a reason to laugh. But sometimes a healthy dose of humor and a little wink help to lighten up the situation a bit and give it a positive mood. Of course you should take missteps seriously, no question - but not too seriously. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe this little slip-up is even the first step towards something really big!

6. stay realistic

Even if mistakes don't immediately spell doom for the company and should get a positive note at the end of the day, you shouldn't gloss over them. See them for exactly what they are and analyze them as a team. If you get into the habit of labeling mistakes as half as bad in retrospect, you deprive your employees and yourself of the opportunity to learn and grow from them. At the same time, you always want to move forward and not stay in place, because that is exactly the meaning behind error culture!

7. lead by example

As Executive your team looks up to you. So be a role model and be open about the mistakes you make. Just because you're in a leadership position doesn't mean you can't make a single mistake. Be authentic and talk about it with your team.

Show him that nobody is perfect, not even you. This will loosen the basic mood considerably. Your employees will then find it easier to talk about their own mistakes without fear of looking bad in front of you. They'll see that a faux pas doesn't hurt and that talking openly about it is a sign of strength.

8. look at your team at eye level

In many companies, there is a certain distance between the manager and the team. This is not necessarily due to a bad working atmosphere, but rather because your employees only want to show you their best side. The respect they have for you may be getting in the way. On the one hand, this is understandable, but on the other hand, it is not conducive when it comes to developing together.

So make an effort to build a closer relationship with your team and show each and every member that no one has to hide. No matter what it's about, you always have an open ear and show understanding. That's exactly what you want your team to internalize. Only then will you have the opportunity to talk openly about mistakes and work on them.

9. ask questions

A good error culture is not just about talking about the errors themselves. It's also important to find out where they originate and how your team is dealing with them. Always ask questions like:

  • What did you miss that caused this error?
  • Were there any problems with communication?
  • What did this mistake show you?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • Are you having trouble figuring out what exactly was the source of the problem?
  • Do you wish you had more support and if so, in what form?

Only those who ask questions can learn. This applies not only to your team, but also to you. So listen carefully to your employees to better understand their needs. Because that's exactly what the open conversations within the error culture are for.

10. don't become a yes man

Mistakes are still mistakes. Adopting a positive error culture does not mean that mistakes are allowed to happen on a regular basis. Rather, it is about not labeling mistakes as something negative. Be sensitive to each individual and motivate your employees to always keep the lessons they learn from them in mind in the future. In this way, your team will practice reflection.

positive error culture

What constitutes a good error culture?

Open, transparent and fast - these three points should be fulfilled by a good error culture. If something did not go according to plan, the matter is not swept under the rug, but communicated immediately. You talk openly and honestly in the team about where exactly the mistake was, what could have gone better and what you can learn from it.

Together, you will then look for a solution to minimize any damage that may have been caused. Of course, you also get to the bottom of the cause of the mistake so that you can do better next time. A good error culture completely eliminates blame. It doesn't matter who made the mistake. The only important thing is that you learn helpful lessons from it that will help you in the future.

If one of your employees has made a mistake with full intent, then you may of course nonetheless draw consequences. A positive error culture is not a free pass to no longer do your own work conscientiously or even to intentionally harm the company. The culprit must expect and accept negative consequences.

Your path to a sophisticated error culture

A positive culture of error is an incredibly important tool for encouraging your employees to bring forward their own ideas, to experiment, and thus to develop their Promote productivity. Conflicts, which are often associated with mistakes, can be resolved through open discussion with your team, paving the way for innovation and success.

Would you like to learn how to do just that and motivate your employees to perform at their best? Then become business coach! In our webinar we bring you professionally to the next level!

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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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