Mistakes are the most important thing!

You can learn from mistakes, but how can you best facilitate the learning as a manager?

We all make mistakes, fortunately because they are deeply human. Nobody is perfect. And you can learn from mistakes, which is why they are valuable. Here are three tips on how you as a manager can support a good learning effect:

No blame approach

Pressure creates back pressure. Blame calls for justification. So there is no progress with the famous finger pointing. Therefore, it is important to approach the situation without condemnation and thus without assigning blame and this is called "no blame approach". But not judging has nothing to do with clearly addressing the situation or the mistake. Wrapping things up in nice words, or “burger or sandwich feedback” (good news – bad news – good news) always carries the risk of misunderstandings and confusion. Another tip: separate the situation from the person. Make it clear that whoever made a mistake is therefore not a bad person. It's about the thing, about the learning effect - that has to be separated from the person.

Creating the right framework to fail and grow

As so often, the solution lies in creating a balance: Pushing a rookie into a complex situation is just as unfortunate as guiding experienced people in detail. It is therefore necessary to create a setting that is adapted to the person and the task. It must be made clear that failure or mistakes are part of the concept. And that as a manager you take responsibility when something goes wrong: "You take the risk, I take the blame." is a formulation that is often used.

Timely, honest feedback

Giving feedback means taking the time, choosing the focus carefully, adapting the language, creating the framework and then conducting the conversation in such a way that the key messages are conveyed calmly. If you are not sure how to run such conversations take some exta time for planning, practice and take the courage to admit if something didn't work out. Feedback does not come as a rebuke, from above, but at eye level with the serious effort to bring about improvements in the other person. It is good to let the first emotions subside, but timely feedback is much more promising than discussions that are carried out with too much delay.

Where is the sailing story now?

One of the most memorable "mistakes" we made was when we were unable to reef the mainsail, which means to reduce the sail area. For hours and to the point of exhaustion, the crew tried everything to seczre the blocking mechanism into the first lock of the reef. Without result. Frustrated, tired and in the end without a mainsail set, we had to give up that day and only sail the night with the headsail. The first attempt the next day, after hours of driving at half speed, was immediately successful – right away. Why? Nobody knows. The only thing that is certain is that it was not a technical defect.

But the sail wasn't the problem, nor that it couldn't be made smaller. The situation was infinitely valuable because we had learned that you can't force things. That even such a relatively simple maneuver can go wrong with a tired and exhausted team. The decisive factor here was the debriefing, the no blame approach, ensuring the learning effect.