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The most common mistakes when managing failures at work

We list some of the most common negative reactions to failure that we see in work environments.

Fuckup Nights
March 15, 2023
Common mistakes in managing failures at work

When it comes to failures, there are many, many variations

There are failures originated by carelessness or negligence, there are also failures due to external issues beyond our control, others are derived from attempts to take risks and seek to innovate.

Regardless of what causes them, each company has its own method of managing and reacting to these failures. And it is in this diversity of options that some teams fall into toxic practices that can not only worsen the resulting situations, but can also create psychologically dangerous environments.

It's not entirely our fault. Since we are small we are taught to react in this way. Behaviors linked to fear, because the concepts of failure and error have always had a negative connotation. Experiences seen as totally negative and that come with a high price to pay.

In our Failure Program team dynamics, we have found that our clients have teams that are very fearful of talking about failure, let alone sharing it.

In fact, according to our diagnostic survey we do with our new partners, we find that 45% of people in a team try to fix their mistakes themselves rather than ask for help, even though they are aware that they do not have the skills to do so.

This tells us a lot about the latent fear of failure. And we know that it stems mainly from the wrong way in which it is managed. That's why we wanted to list some of the most common reactions to failure in work environments, and that we find very regularly in the companies we work with:

#4 Making value judgments

Among the negative repercussions of a professional mistake or failure, we can find several, all depending on the severity of a mistake, from overtime to losing a job. But none of these is as heavily weighted as value judgments.

As you may know, biases and mindsets play a very important role in our mental processes and value judgments. Correspondence bias means that when we judge a person, we relate their actions directly to their personality. 

For example, someone who led a major project and was unable to sustain it financially is likely to be seen as incompetent or bad with finances. In these judgments by correspondence, we tend to ignore situations and context, jumping straight to personal characteristics. Yes, the project leader may have overlooked market behavior, or made a bad decision, but that failure does not make him incompetent or bad at finance.

#3 Point out

Many times, when a mistake is made, an environment of psychological danger is created, where there is uncertainty and fear of the repercussions within a team, leading to an attitude of finger-pointing to avoid the consequences.

It is at this stage that we can make the most mistakes, especially in the way we approach the conversation and the people involved.

When we point fingers, violent types of communication occur that cause those involved to react defensively or take steps backward to cooperate on a solution. Communicating violently does not always involve raising our voices or using derogatory words. So does being inconsistent between what we say and what we express emotionally, complaining, being sarcastic, judgmental, judgmental or elusive.

#2 Embarrass

Based on value judgments, we create a profile of people's professional capabilities, and these are taken into consideration when we assign a new project or decide whether or not to give them a second chance.

The fear of failure is also due to the subsequent discomfort they generate, shame is a predominant emotion when we must share and assume a failure. We know that shame can deter people from making amends for their mistakes and diminishes confidence in their abilities to improve in the future. 

According to our diagnostic survey, 46% of people feel unsure of themselves after a mistake at work and this will clearly have a negative consequence for future decision making and perpetuate the likelihood of making another mistake.

This feeling of shame in the face of failure has an external validation when there are disproportionate repercussions and in work teams the situation is hidden, avoided or treated as something reprehensible.

#1 Applying unreasonable consequences

The fear of failure is largely due to the negative repercussions it can have, especially in highly competitive environments. 

Of the companies we have worked with, we found that 35% of their employees believe that there is a negative impact for leaders of projects that fail. At work, there is often an intention to hide failure in the hope that it will be solved in secret and not made known to others. 

When there are disproportionate consequences to failures within an organization, we create environments of fear and tension, especially when doing new activities or making important decisions. This, combined with a lack of clarity of roles, responsibilities and consequences, increases uncertainty and creates spaces of psychological danger.

Some solutions...

Taking into account these adverse reactions to failure, we have identified some solutions to make failure management more proactive and generate confidence in the members of an organization:

  • Accountability and feedback: When a responsible party is identified and feedback is given, embarrassment decreases and we can focus more on finding a solution.

  • Psychological safety: Managing a mistake must be done in a safe space, where we can openly admit our responsibility and recognize whether or not there was clarity and clear expectations at the beginning.

  • Focus on processes: We may have had a negative result in a project, but when managing failures, do not ignore the process. That may be what was done well or what was learned from them.

  • Freedom and involvement: In order to find a solution to the errors, involving the people who participated is essential to reduce the negative impact of the errors and to transform the experience into learning.

Finally, we must understand that proper management of failure is an opportunity to move towards innovation. Recognizing and treating mistakes as lessons learned allows us to reduce the fear of failure, to encourage attempts and to view risks objectively in order to achieve innovation.

Although we often react in adverse ways to failure, with the right guidelines, we can transform the way we manage failure within our company.

Precisely with our Failure Program, through courses and workshops we seek to change that mentality oriented to stigmatize and severely punish mistakes, and instead, create safe spaces to try, propose and fail in favor of innovation. 

Schedule a call with us to find out how we can help you create those spaces.

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The most common mistakes when managing failures at work


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