Building a culture that promotes teamwork, efficiency, retention, and other positive attributes can be challenging. While many organizations want accountability and responsibility, it is easy for managers to tip over into a blame-and-chastise pattern. When someone makes a mistake and a deadline is missed or a client gets upset, how do you respond?
I saw an article that gives some examples from the cybersecurity world about how to build a culture that allows mistakes and forgives them. We all make mistakes, and we should strive to correct them while working to avoid repeating the same mistake. But we will make mistakes again in the future, so how do we deal with them?
One of the challenges with building a strong culture that is productive is with management. Far too many people react poorly when things go wrong. I find this is a similar challenge to parenting, where we often struggle to let go of control and accept that mistakes will occur. We can also worry that we will be blamed for others’ mistakes and want to push our employees or children to avoid mistakes. Often our reactions are more fear-based, for ourselves or even for others’ safety. However, we can’t completely avoid things going wrong. It’s never worked for me, either at work or at home.
There are plenty of articles on creating blameless cultures (one, two, and searches), most of which give reasoning why this works better and hints on what you can do. For many of us, these might feel like a dream we cannot chase. With some managers, the idea of even broaching the topic might be too scary. In those situations, I might try discussing the ideas with peers and perhaps implementing ideas with them, rather than trying to convince management.
Ultimately culture requires support from those in charge. Management has to actually believe in a culture that tolerates and accepts mistakes, while still striving to reduce their occurrence. Everyone deserves to make mistakes and recover from them. We’d like to prevent repeat mistakes, but those will happen. My goal is to work to be better over time and expect others to do the same. While I might need to move someone to a new job or even let them go, it wouldn’t be because of making a few mistakes. It would be because of constant mistakes without making an effort to change their behavior and be better.