Mistakes: an opportunity for learning

Inevitable mistakes

No matter how well prepared we are, when we enter into the world of business, we will inevitably make mistakes.  It comes with the territory when moving forward.  Fear of mistakes is why many choose not to enter in to the world of business as the fear of making mistakes is crippling.  After all, every business makes many mistakes.

My case was no exception.  As a start-up, I made many mistakes in the early years of my business.   This in itself is not cause for concern, but at my office, the same mistakes kept recurring, and I didn’t have the means to minimize recurrence of these mistakes.  Repeating the same mistakes over and over again became annoying, frustrating and had a profound negative impact on all aspects of the company.

The real problem was in the lack of process.  When a mistake happened, the approach was to find someone to blame, hold them accountable and hope they would change their ways to avoid future mistakes.  The blame-game became a negative act, one that took time to recover from.  These were verbal conversations, and the incident recorded anywhere.  After the storm passed, the incident was generally forgotten until the mistake happened again.  This recurrence followed by another round of blame and fault finding.  And, so it went on for years!   Over time, dealing with mistakes this way had a considerable negative impact upon my team:


                               *  team members tried to hide their mistakes as they disliked being made scapegoats

* productivity suffered, as any team member, when in doubt about proceeding, hesitated                          for fear of making a mistake and being taken to task

* company culture suffered as no one wanted to genuinely become involved in team                building exercises


What to do?

I was at a loss of what to do.  As a last resort, I hired a business coach to help us.  One of the first things he asked me was “how do you deal with mistakes?”  I explained how mistakes typically shook out, through a cycle of blaming the perpetrator.  I told my mentor “everyone in the office is hesitant for fear of making a mistake.”  It became clear that our approach was not sustainable.

My business coach said “what do you think about considering mistakes as an opportunity for learning and a means of improving the functionality of the office?”  He added “generally mistakes are caused by conditions which are not necessarily the fault of the one who makes the mistake.” and added that there could be many related  reasons for the mistake.  This statement resonated with me, so we proceeded to develop a process to transform mistakes into knowledge that would benefit the practice.

Mistake mitigation process

The following is the process that we developed to address mistakes in our office, and a this process became incredibly valuable for us.  When a mistake happens:

1.      Assume it is a company mistake rather than a mistake of an individual.

2.      Consider mistakes as an opportunity for learning.

3.     Outline the mistake in writing and the circumstances without blame.

4.     Assess how the mistake impacts the company:

o   loss of revenue

o   loss of profit

o   client impact

o   loss of time

o   damaged reputation

5.     Have a meeting with those directly involved and discuss the factors and circumstances that led up to the mistake – without assigning blame.  Make an exhaustive list of the factors and do not proceed to finding solutions until you have a complete list.

6.     Next, with the same group, discuss ways and methods which could be instigated to prevent the same mistake from recurring

7.     Reach an agreement of the most practical method to avoid the mistake in the future.  Record what is to be done and who is accountable for any actions to be taken, both now and in the future.

8.     This process should be recorded for future reference, and made accessible to all team members.

9.     Once the process on how to deal with mistakes is recorded, distribute to all team members, either in hard copy or digitally.

10.   If by chance the mistake recurs, review the process and adjust as required with any new information.

11.    Hold regular meetings to review past mistakes and how they were addressed, as a teaching exercise.


If you implement this process, you will find that the incidents of mistakes will be substantially reduced.  Over a period of a year the ‘old’ mistakes will be minimized and the ‘new’ mistakes will be looked upon as a learning opportunities.  Out of this process, your team will grow a renewed sense of confidence and individuals will no longer be worried about being made into scapegoats.

One factor that sometimes prevents a business from addressing mistakes is the taboo surrounding frank discussions on difficult topics like money and/or mistakes.  This is especially prevalent in architectural offices, as they would rather talk about solving their clients problems than their own.   However, it is important to remember by solving your own problems like mitigating recurrence of mistakes, you will be able to better serve your clients.

Team discussions about topics like this must be done with great tact.  Your team members need to feel safe in the environment where this discussion takes place.  Preface the discussion by reminding your staff that it is being done to improve the strength of the team and the company.   Point out that mistakes are a learning process for both the individual and the team as a whole. 


 /* Style Definitions */
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	font-family:"Klinic Slab Light";
    Shelly Anderson, CEO of Synch Business Consulting  “Learn from the mistakes you have made before.  Use downturns in the economy as an excuse to tighten and become more efficient, it can be a helpful cleansing.”

Shelly Anderson, CEO of Synch Business Consulting

“Learn from the mistakes you have made before.  Use downturns in the economy as an excuse to tighten and become more efficient, it can be a helpful cleansing.”

Like all elements of running a business, the negative impact of this blame game seems simple on the surface, but these kinds of hidden pitfalls plague many young enterprises.

Fortunately, they can be mitigated with increased awareness about what it takes to run a successful practice. The toxic effect of malignant or ineffective processes can limit the success of any business. The good news is that, when you know the elements of successfully running a business,                  you can systematically overcome these negative impacts.

This is one more step in your journey toward running the business of your dreams.  Your company will achieve the highest level of success if your goal is always looking for ways to improve!

 NORBERT LEMERMEYER  Phone: 780 490 8831  Email: norbert@architectureplusbusiness.com  Website:  architectureplusbusiness.com   Twitter:  @archplusbis   Blog:  Architecture+Business Blog


Phone: 780 490 8831

Email: norbert@architectureplusbusiness.com

Website: architectureplusbusiness.com

Twitter: @archplusbis

Blog: Architecture+Business Blog