What is error culture?

Error culture is the handling of errors and their consequences, within societies, cultures and social systems. The term is often used as a synonym for an environment, where mistakes are allowed and seen as a way to improve.

Error culture requires that errors happen and that they are also corrected. Mistakes are an integral part of learning and further development. In order to see them as an opportunity, an error culture is needed – an acknowledgement of errors. This enables companies to recognize mistakes, learn from them and take preventive measures in the future. A positive side effect: a positive error culture strengthens employee loyalty.

life buoy as symbol for error culture

The Error Culture of the Alaska Coast Guard

There is not much room for error when you are in the life-saving business. But nevertheless, errors occur wherever people are at work. Even a serious organization like the Alaska Coast Guard is no exception to the rule. So in order to minimize errors, they established what is called a “just culture”. In short, a just culture is about creating an environment where people are not afraid to talk about their mistakes. In this environment of trust and respect, errors are seen as a necessary evil to improve and learn. The basic principle is simple: You talk about your mistakes, so hopefully no mistake is made twice.

Developing a positive error culture

  • Mistakes are allowed

Mistakes are allowed and everyone is allowed to make them. This realization protects against resentment within a company, as well as expensive consequences.

  • Search for solutions

The goal is to find the cause of the error in order to avoid it in the future.

  • Concession

A positive error culture is strengthened, among other things, by owning up to one’s mistakes. Managers are also called upon here and must ensure that an admission of mistakes is also honored.

  • Feedback

An ideal basis for good further development is created through objective feedback. If a mistake has been discovered, the supervisor should point it out objectively.

Further measures for a positive error culture

Companies with a positive error culture have a certain attitude toward errors. This basic attitude allows employees to make mistakes and talk about them without fear of sanctions.
  • This attitude should be recorded in writing.
  • It should be formulated in concrete terms.
  • The management level exemplifies this attitude.
  • There should be sufficient time to discuss and subsequently learn from mistakes – promoting open communication.
  • Managers should live this attitude in such a way that individual employees do not have to fear blame.
  • The mistake has happened, solutions are sought – what has been learned should be recorded in order to be able to exchange information with each other.
  • Supervisors and employees should develop the skills to deal with mistakes positively – by giving each other feedback, discussing mistakes in reflection rounds, and supporting employees who bear the consequences for mistakes made.

A special way to deal with errors a so-called “fuckup nights“. These events celebrate mistakes as a way for everyone to learn.

More on “Just Culture”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_culture

angry boss is a bad error culture

VIDEO: An NHS Guide to a life-saving error culture