Positive Error Culture: Why mistakes actually make sense


Woman is blamed for mistakes - Positive error culture
Key facts about error culture

reading time: ca. 5 minutes

  • An open error culture in companies enables progress and innovation. This includes error management, which describes the internal handling of failures.
  • Instead of condemning mistakes, they are accepted, analysed together, and used as an opportunity to learn.
  • This also improves the working atmosphere, employee satisfaction, and team spirit.
  • A few tips can pave the way for a better error culture.

Mistakes are still considered a professional no-go in many areas. In most people's minds, they stand for failure and weakness. But mistakes are absolutely human and even useful. Because only those who allow themselves to do something wrong can learn and improve. A positive error culture moves companies forward and ensures progress.

Many inventions and innovations in history have been born from mistakes. Nevertheless, mistakes are still not welcome in the professional world. Tasks must be completed perfectly, missteps are concealed or even punished. The first question that usually comes up is: Who is to blame?

This is slowly changing: the importance of thoughtful corporate error management is becoming more important than ever. More and more managers understand that the correct handling of wrong decisions can significantly increase the working atmosphere and the productivity in teams.

What does error culture mean?

The term "error culture" describes how a company deals with mistakes and wrong decisions made by its own employees.

This includes various questions: What is the general attitude towards mistakes? How are they reacted to, how are the consequences dealt with? Do mistakes have to be prevented by all means – or are they even welcomed as part of an open learning culture?

The evaluation of mistakes in a company always tells us something about the corporate culture as well. Error culture is closely linked to the creation of a positive working climate and the establishment of an open and progressive way of working.

A negative error culture focuses on avoidance, blaming, and punishment. Mistakes are stigmatised and rarely discussed.

In contrast, a positive error culture looks for solutions and learnings instead of guilty ones. Mistakes are allowed to happen, are accepted, and reflected on together with the team.

Why mistakes are important

Everyone makes mistakes, both in private and in job life. This is not a sign of weakness or a bad working style, but perfectly natural.

If mistakes are suppressed due to a negative error culture, there are little opportunities for self-improvement and innovation. Usually, the working atmosphere suffers and employees are less satisfied.

The fear of doing something wrong severely limits one's own potential and creativity and leads to permanent stress. Dealing negatively with failures therefore harms the professional performance and well-being of a person.

Man slaps hands over head in front of notebook - Error culture

Error culture means learning culture: How we learn from mistakes

The good thing about mistakes is that we learn from them. Those who adopt a positive attitude towards mishaps do not see them as a setback, but as a catalyst for improvement.

Already in early childhood, we learn from mistakes. We try things out, practise, and get back up again when we fail. It is only when we start school that our evaluation of mistakes changes to the negative. By punishing mistakes with bad grades, a negative attitude is established and we develop the desire to be perfect and faultless.

This attitude and the resulting avoidance strategies usually continue throughout life – right up to our working life.

Back to our naturally good error culture.It certainly challenges us, individuals just like companies. But it is worth the effort, because it is the only way to create an open learning culture in which everyone can grow and develop.

»Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.«

Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple

Positive error culture as a success factor

If errors are analysed and discussed instead of being silenced, solutions can be worked out together to avoid similar mistakes in the future. For example, weak points can be found and internal processes optimised.

In the long run, companies benefit in several ways from a positive error culture and systematic error management:

  • Mistakes and dealing with them openly are the basic requirement for innovation and progress. At the same time, the working atmosphere and employee satisfaction will increase sustainably.
  • Instead of caution and fear, creativity and inventiveness are promoted among the managers and employees in the company.
  • Teamwork can be improved through open discussions and constructive feedback.
  • In a positive environment, employees are encouraged to take responsibility for their mistakes and to grow from them.

This is how good error management works

Companies should deal with mistakes openly and establish a sensible error management. Error management includes a routinised and constructive way of handling missteps.

For this purpose, a process is developed that includes systematic error identification, diagnosis, resolution, and long-term prevention.

It is important to note that the development of successful error management is never complete. Instead, the process should be questioned and improved again and again. It is a long-term attitude rather than a single, closed task.

Cooperation instead of opposition

Sensible error management includes not only the individual employee, but the whole team. Ideally, mistakes are discussed transparently and solutions to problems are worked out together – without blaming anyone.

In a positive atmosphere, employees can dare to admit mistakes and ask others for help. This strengthens the team spirit and makes joint learning possible.

Woman gives high five in the team - Positive error culture

Braving the gap

Nobody is perfect. Even on the way to a better error management, mistakes happen and not every decision may turn out to be the right one. In that case, it is important to look ahead and admit one's own wrong decisions.

Sometimes, it is a long path to the best solution. But with self-reflection and positivity, even difficult challenges can be mastered.

The key word here is error tolerance, i.e. accepting one's own mistakes. Of course, failures can be annoying, but instead of letting the negative feelings take over, the reaction should be empathetic and affirmative.

6 tips for a positive error culture

  • Don't be afraid of making mistakes: By creating a positive and trusting atmosphere, employees don't have to fear mistakes and negative consequences. This is the basis for an open and transparent error culture.
  • Chances to learn: Mistakes should be accepted and solved quickly. Several mistakes are possible on the way to the best solution. Error culture always includes learning culture.
  • Open communication: If a mistake is made, it should be discussed within the team. By involving everyone, joint learning is made possible, and a solution is sought together. Communication is key to an open error culture.
  • Analyse without personal involvement: The "why" is important, not the "who". Instead of looking for someone to blame, the focus should be on the reason or the solution to the problem. Not: Who did it? But: Why did it happen and how can we improve it?
  • Set a good example: Leaders should be a role model, also in terms of error culture. Managers should adhere to their mistakes and communicate them transparently. This encourages employees to do the same.
  • Remain objective: Emotions should be left out of error management. Instead of being angry or ashamed, the focus lies on solving the problem quickly and objectively. Missteps are analysed and discussed in a non-judgemental way.

No progress without mistakes

The path to an open error culture is a process that cannot be implemented overnight. It takes time and training to establish a positive approach to mistakes.

Studies have shown that companies with a positive error culture and active error management are more successful in the long term. And they have more motivated managers and employees. In many international companies, the best and most instructive mistakes of the week are celebrated on so-called Failure Fridays.

Many European companies can take an example from this positive attitude – and profit from it in the long term. A positive side effect: For the individual employees, this also leads to less stress, more self-confidence and ultimately to more job satisfaction.

Are you looking for a professional environment in which you can learn and grow?

Then take on a new professional challenge.

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