Error culture - netzwerk managementberatung | coaching
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Organisational development | Error culture

Oops! 10 tips for a constructive culture of fault tolerance.

From Sabine Walter, Head of network management consulting | coaching

In many companies, the culture of mistakes is synonymous with a culture of fear. It paralyses and leads to neither lateral thinking nor trying out new things. A destructive error culture discourages employees and managers from taking risks and assuming responsibility for decisions. Some companies even go so far as to publish a monthly error report and let everyone read about the biggest "error devils" on the notice board. This kind of thing makes innovation impossible.

In this article, we give tips for a constructive error culture and illustrate the entrepreneurial gain that lies in this cultural change.

Elements of a fault tolerance culture

Error culture - this is part of it

A constructive error culture includes various aspects: starting from the Error acceptanceThis is the attitude that mistakes are experiences and part of learning and development processes. This goes hand in hand with Freedom from sanctions and a process that enables learning from mistakes.

Error culture: tolerance and acceptance

We live in a culture where failure is seen as a flaw. We are taught from an early age not to make mistakes. If we do, the red pencil comes into play and sanctions are imposed. We feel ashamed. Shame is followed by fear of rejection. Self-worth is damaged.

What are errors? The Duden defines Error as deviation from the correct. But what is right? By right we often mean rules, norms, traditions, expressed or unspoken expectations or ideas. In Sweden, errors are defined only as deviationssays Maike van den Boom, happiness researcher:

"Scandinavians don't make mistakes. They only create deviations."

Of course, there are errors whose effects lead to very great and irreparable damage. We think of the catastrophe in Tchernobyl, train accidents caused by faulty switch settings, surgical errors in hospitals that lead to permanent health restrictions or even death. Measured against the total number of errors, however, this is the significantly smaller part.

Therefore, our attitude towards mistakes should change. Mistakes are important experiences. They are part of growth, an important element of development processes. Without mistakes, there is no innovation. Several innovations have come about by chance through mistakes. Examples are:

  • Post-it's by Spencer Silver
  • Tesafilm by developer of the company Beiersdorf
  • Galvanisation by Charles Goodyear
  • Dynamite by Alfred Nobel
  • Principle of vaccination by Louis Pasteur

It is important that the Error tolerance and acceptance lived by the top management in a way that is perceptible to all becomes. Only then will the management and staff levels also gain confidence and recognise mistakes as part of development.

This attitude is also visible in the fact that Mistakes are openly admitted. Only then can they contribute to learning and generate opportunities.

Error culture: From acceptance to freedom from sanctions

Linked to the tolerance of error is the question of consequences. When mistakes are part of development processes, the call for sanctions becomes obsolete. Excluded from this are things that happen with intent and are deliberately intended to harm.

Framework conditions to learn from mistakes

We do not automatically learn from mistakes just because they happen. Rather, a trusting framework and various impulses are needed so that mistakes lead to further development or learning.

  • The Rules / norms or expectations are known.
  • Fault tolerance and Freedom from sanctions are available.
  • There is space and the ability to Self-reflectionso that Errors are recognised and evaluated them.
  • There is sufficient Expertise, um Things for errors to change which is not worth repeating.
  • It prevails Trust so that mistakes are talked about openly.
  • In troubleshooting, the focus is on the Solution to the problem instead of on the Question of guilt.
  • The Attitude that mistakes are part of development processes is anchored in the personality so that mistakes do not lead to a reduction in self-esteem.


Error culture: a top-down process that takes time

Like any process that shakes our values, upbringing patterns, the old familiar and established and requires not only a rethinking but the letting go of old patterns and beliefs and the development of our personality, this takes time. Therefore the Changing the error culture in companies is a profound change process that takes place top-down. What are the 10 most important steps?

  1. Error acceptance by the top management level: Mistakes are experiences and part of the development process and do not lead to a reduction in self-esteem.
  2. Role model effect of the top management level: Mistakes are openly admitted.
  3. Differentiated view: Where do we still need a zero-defect culture and where not?
  4. Continuing education: Continuous training on and off the job.
  5. Risk minimisationWhen making decisions with major business implications, it helps to anticipate a worst-case scenario. and to Consider how this can be avoided. Questions we asked in the article "critical thinking" have presented help with this.
  6. Solution-focused communication instead of the question of guilt: How do we succeed ...? What exactly will we do differently next time? How else can ... be avoided?
  7. Error analysis and evaluation: Room for the Self-reflection let.
  8. Feedback culture: Continuously in everyday life constructive feedback give.
  9. Institutionalise the learning process: What mistakes have we made? What have we learned from them? What opportunities does it open up for us? Is it worth making this mistake again? If not, what do we change to make it harder to repeat?
  10. Implementation: Implement things learned from mistakes and justify the change.

Zum Artikel: Critical Thinking

Error culture


Error culture and innovative strength are closely linked. Therefore, we as a society can no longer afford to stick to the zero-error limit. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. This German proverb should finally be the programme again.

Your next step towards a better error culture

In our "Quick Check Error Culture We have compiled key indicators that you can use to assess the Assess the error culture of your company or team at a glance them.

Quick Check Error Culture

Improved error culture

Your next step: Team and organisational development

You would like to significantly improve your error culture in the company or in the team and thus lay the foundation for greater innovative strength, then we should talk to each other about how to go about it.

Changing the error culture is a top-down process in the company. A constructive and open approach to mistakes must be practised first and foremost by top management.

Contact us and arrange a consultation appointment.

Write us your request

Organisational development: Your benefit

Companies that use us for the moderation and accompaniment of change processes, achieve their goals, are very satisfied and recommend us to others. So too Constanze Hintze, Managing Director of the Financial Advisor SVEA KUSCHEL + colleagues in Munich:

"It is the down-to-earthness of her work that inspires me about Sabine Walter. The coaching with the team from Svea Kuschel + Kollegen was about the entrepreneurial vision and its implementation. The fact that the critical, emotionally sore points are worked out, tackled and solved in a practical way is primarily due to her. She manages this in a Perfect mix of leading and letting go, listening and enquiring, closeness and distance. I can only recommend every company to design change and further development processes with her!"

Further references

Suitable further training offer

Executive coaching for the further development of personal fault tolerance

Since changing the error culture is a top-down process, the personal fault tolerance of managers at all levels is crucial.

Our Executive Coaching also provides the framework for this. Your coach, Sabine Walter, analyses your personal error behaviour, your error tolerance and acceptance with you. Blocking personality patterns and beliefs are dissolved and the communicative handling of mistakes is trained.

In this way you achieve a role model effect in your organisation and stand credibly for the change you initiate.

Book Coaching

Further reading on the topic


The pilot and author Philip Keil elaborates on what leaders can learn from pilots in this podcast. "If you want to achieve goals, you have to reach people." And he has to make sure that mistakes are made, but that they are learned from quickly in order to avoid error chains. What does it take for us to learn from the crisis and not to crash, but to start anew?? Philip Keil gives answers worth hearing.

To the podcast of Philip Keil

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