Encouraging your team to make mistakes

Apr 30, 2021

“Say what? Why the heck would I want to encourage my team to make mistakes?”

As I’ve been prepping for a new team leadership course that I’m working on (details coming soon) one of the things I’ve come to see is this:

There are a lot of businesses out there that have a culture of perfectionism.

And perfectionism could be the very reason why their team is struggling.

A culture of perfectionism means that people feel like they have to do it right. The first time. All the time.

And when they mess it up or make a mistake, it becomes a BIG deal.

They become so afraid of making mistakes that they can end up:

  • constantly second guessing themselves
  • getting caught up in every little detail to the point they don’t get things done
  • relying on other people (you?) to give them the right answers or tell them what to do before taking action
  • quitting because they are too overwhelmed and stressed out about it all

Put simply, when it’s not OK to make mistakes then people can’t do their best work. And that is a problem.

Now perfectionism can be sneaky… as leaders we may not even realize that we have created a culture of perfectionism!

Perfectionism sneaks in when we do things like:

  • Take over when someone makes a mistake. When our response is “just let me fix it”… instead of empowering them to fix the mistake on their own
  • Expect them to ‘hit the ground running’ the day we start working together… and then question why things aren’t happening as quickly as we would like. (It takes time for people to get to know you and your business.)
  • Let someone go the moment something is done wrong or it feels like something is missing… vs. digging deeper to see if it can be resolved (others on the team will see this happening too)
  • Get outwardly mad or frustrated when someone makes a mistake… it’s OK to feel mad or frustrated (we are all human!) but to lead and respond from that place is damaging. Especially when it happens on a regular basis.
  • Hang over their shoulder and question their every move, with things like “why are you doing it that way? I would have done it this way”…
  • Question their recommendations or advice, especially when you’ve hired them to bring those recommendations to you.

“So does this mean I just let mistakes slide?”

Heck no! We don’t want mistakes to happen on a regular basis, and nor do we want to just let things slide when they do.

Encouraging mistakes means that we create a culture where two things are true:

  1. It’s OK to make mistakes
  2. We EMPOWER our team to fix their mistakes

When we create a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes a few things start to happen. People start taking more action because they aren’t getting as caught up in “I have to do it right!!” They move faster. They become more creative and innovative. They are more engaged in their work. They may also bring more caring to their work (because they are no longer afraid of judgement or having to operate in defensive mode all the time.)

And when they do make a mistake – because lets be real, we all do – then they are empowered to fix it. To explore options and bring solution to the table. To get support from you or other team members as needed. To do what it takes to make it right AND prevent it from happening again in the future.

I’ve always said that I don’t care if someone on my team makes a mistake – what I do care about is if they are willing to own it and fix it. And in my 20+ years of being in business I have yet to see a mistake that couldn’t be fixed…

Here’s to making more mistakes! So that we may move forward faster & together.

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