Mistake making

I’m an advocate for helping people to be comfortable with mistake making at work. Mistakes are a fundamental way of learning and always are unpredictable. You can never know you’re going to make a mistake, and when you do you learn vital things which you use to be better next time.

No-one enters the workplace being adept at writing business cases. No-one becomes a great facilitator just because they like people. No-one becomes literate at MS Excel just because they have access to a PC.

We learn, we practise, we make mistakes and we get better (mostly).

I’d like to share some of my own howlers. Because it’s easy to think everything we do is with a clear idea and outcome in mind. And it’s easy to think that every solution is the right answer, when the reality is we can’t ever know if that’s the right answer or not until after the fact.

When I assumed an email would suffice.

In a previous organisation I was tasked with re-designing the whole Corporate Induction process. I’d attended a few, facilitated a few and had a fair idea of what improvements needed to be made. I decided to start the revision process by sending out an email with initial thoughts about small improvements that people could make. I wrote it carefully, praised participation and made it clear this was a first step to further thoughts which I’d be seeking their input on. And I got a second opinion on the email before I sent it.

By the end of the day I was apologising to all concerned for patronising them, for not being considerate of their delivery experience, and for not approaching people personally to talk them through my initial ideas. I had never expected that reaction, and couldn’t have predicted it.

I learned a valuable lesson that day about assuming I understood the culture of an organisation and how to be more inclusive in my thinking.

When I trusted myself to facilitate.

I’m a good facilitator. I care about good facilitation and I care about creating a good learning experience.

I was working with a group of project managers about how to use coaching skills as part of their role. I chose to use the GROW model as a basis for the session and held a number of practise sessions during to create practical learning of the model.

After the session I had feedback from one participant that they didn’t learn anything new, felt as if I was relying on the group to do all the work and provided little in the way of gained knowledge.

I realised I trusted my skills too much, and went into the session unprepared and had poorly designed the session. That one hurt because I let the group down badly. I learned there’s a clear difference between having the skills and doing the preparation.

When I thought it was important to defend.

I was delivering a Diversity and Dignity at Work learning session on behalf of a company. It was mandatory for all staff to go through these sessions, and I delivered a lot of these.

In one session, a delegate started to challenge some of the assertions I was making. I started to get defensive about the content and ended up having an argument about the merits of the session, the content and applicability to all concerned.

I learned an important thing about what listening really means and how to hear beyond the words. The delegate wasn’t against diversity at all, but had issue with the mandatory aspect of the training. I couldn’t hear that at the time though and got caught up in myself and lost sight of the purpose of the session.

I’ve made more mistakes than this. These are just three which have been quite formative for me and in my own learning and development. We can’t get everything right the first time, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable we may be. Mistake making is a fundamental part of learning I have learned to embrace.