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Accepting responsibility is critical for adult learning. It is only when we acknowledge that changing our behavior will improve a situation that we take steps to alter it. So after you accept responsibility for a situation, the first questions to ask yourself are:

  • How can I learn from my mistakes?
  • How do I contribute to the situation?
  • What can I change to achieve different results?

Easier said than done.

Using mistakes to foster innovation in a dynamic group:

  • Establish a “no blame” ground rule. Call a “wrong storming” meeting for 30 minutes to discuss how the team itself contributed to the issue. In fact, blaming others—bosses, co-workers, clients, suppliers — will make it very difficult for your team to learn anything. I am not saying that people outside of your team don’t make mistakes; rather, mistakes made by others are part of the context in which your team operates and are often out of your team’s control.
  • Encourage the team to talk about their mistakes without defensiveness. Go for a “round of mistakes” where—together with other business—you also encourage everyone to share the biggest mistake they made that week and what they learned from it. Done with a cohesive team and the right atmosphere, this exercise can become supremely cathartic.
  • Establish prizes for the most useful mistakes—in terms of learning—that your unit has committed in the last month. This creates an environment where mistakes fully explored and understood become a competitive advantage. Not to mention improving your team’s capacity not to take themselves too seriously.

I realize that this advice runs counter to the cultural assumptions we have about mistakes and failure in many organizations. However, great organizations and powerful teams are not measured by the absence of mistakes but by their courage, compassion and creativity to deal with them, as well as by their overall ability to learn from them.

PS: Learn from the future, for a change. Sometimes learning from the past is not enough. Sometimes there is the need for a team to start fresh. In those situations – rather than fixing the past – a focus on the future and on what the team wants to create is way more productive. When that is the case, first you need to hold a session that creates a shared understanding of the current situation the team is dealing with. That can be a great springboard for the team to start building a shared vision of what  future can be possible together.