- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

‘Oops! Sorry! I got this wrong’. Share mistakes to increase collaboration.

Being open about mistakes, own mistakes, team mistakes, has always being considered a driver for trust. If I as leader can say ‘I got that wrong’, then I am sending signals of permission to others to also acknowledge errors and therefore learn for the next time.

Years ago I used to promote a ‘Hall of Fame of Mistakes’ in  organizations, where the publicity of those mistakes sent those ‘permissions’ and also created a true psychological safe space. This is the only way to avoid the usual lip services stance of ‘it’s OK to make mistakes’ that can be however followed by being punished. And you should read and interpret ‘punish’ in a broad sense. It’s not capital punishment but reputation, not being promoted, etc.

It turns out that mistake-sharing may not only be a source of trust, as above described, but a a source of increased collaboration and productivity. Prof Nicholas Christakis ran some experiments in Yale where people were working in small groups with some ‘humanoid robots’. Some of those robots were programmed to make mistakes and acknowledge them. Literally they would say ‘Sorry guys, I made a mistake this round, (…) I know it may be hard to believe but robots make mistakes too’. In other groups the robots were programmed to make bland statements. The groups with ‘confessional robots’ performed much better. They also laughed more and consoled each other. They collaborated better, well above the others.

Not entirely surprising but a good experimental proof that integrating mistakes and ‘confessions’ is much better than keeping them under the carpet. The robots brought the psychologically  safe space, and that paid off.

In the absence of humanoid robots in your teams (but have you checked that Peter is not…? mmm.) managers can create those spaces.

Go from the employee of the month (who is still doing that?)  to the mistake of the week. Try it. Zero cost. Just courage.