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Coaching Mistakes

Mistakes are part of life, especially adventuresome, high-rolling, joyous, super-productive geek life.

Some are quite minor, a moment’s brain-fart, some mis-typed code, forgetting an obvious factor and being reminded, typically by everyone on the team. Today I want to talk about these minor ones.

As coaches we deal with mistakes through a combination of situating, inviting, and modeling.

By way of situating, push the judgment principle to the forefront, early and often.

Judgment Principle:

We Completely Irrevocably And Happily

Rely On Individual Judgment

The judgment principle is one of the strongest concepts the agile world has going for it.

Most methodologies describe software development as basically a machine where you put requirements in at one end, turn the crank for a while, and get software out the other.

The agile family development models are the first I know of to actually include living, breathing, occasionally mistake-making human beings in their process.

This is an epic win, so step up and say it loud.

Mistake-Responses Are A Kind Of Inviting

Many teams carry around a huge lead weight called Get-It-Right-The-First-Time. This ludicrous idea is still endemic in our business.

(Why ludicrous? Because we have shown over and over again for fifty years that it presents an unachievable goal. Basing real practice on unreal beliefs is ludicrous.)

“Make it, fix it, keep moving,” is much more attractive for most people than “Oh my God, you forgot to think of everything”.

Think about this for a second. If most teams are too tense about making mistakes, but your team is okay with them, you have created a better party, which is the essence of inviting.

Modeling Mistake-Making Is Key

Responding well to other’s mistakes is certainly significant, but modeling the actual mistake-making is even more powerful and convincing.

As a coach, you need to understand early on whether Get-It-Right-The-First-Time is hurting your team, and take effective action at once.

Modeling is far and away our strongest game-changer: So, make a mistake.  Acknowledge it, without justifying or excusing it, have a laugh, and keep moving.

The (Good Looking) Author

A joke will help.

I often remind teams that I myself mostly get by on my fabulous good looks, not so much the brain. For some reason, they think that’s funny.

Check Yourself, Sisters and Brothers

Coaching minor mistakes is almost easy. I say almost because I know that some people, including some of you, have an extremely hard time making mistakes.

Check yourself on this.

If you see that you’re not really able to handle your own mistakes, then get some practice. Try it in a safe place, like with your close friend or significant other. Tell them what you’re doing, and why. They’ll help. I guarantee it.

If You Yourself Fear Making Mistakes,

You Won’t Help Anyone Else.

3 Responses to “Coaching Mistakes”

  1. I find learning to make mistakes and get over them at least as hard as learning to stop pointing on others’ mistakes. These two are very often connected. This is a kind of natural reaction – I did something wrong, but there had to be some external reason so let’s look for it.

    At the same time it isn’t important who is to blame, but how to fix the mistake and what we can learn from it. Looking forward, not back.

    A key thing is management support for this attitude. If management look for ones to blame, so will teams. If management cuts the blame game at early stage people will much easier accept mistakes as a part of their jobs.

    • GeePawHill says:

      Pawel… The management support is key, you’re right. Many companies create a culture of blame (and not coincidentally, a culture of lies), then go to absurd lengths to find a name for every flaw. Believe it or not, they think they are helping the company. The horror of such a system is usually the remarkable number of team members who agree that it is beneficial! — Hill

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