328 The core of any failure culture is to repair errors

"We're actually arguing about who's gonna make up for the other person's mistake." Thomas Müller

The core of any failure culture is to repair or correct errors that have occurred. This behavior also forms the core of success for teams and managers.

Success in soccer as well as success in business requires a functional failure culture, which Thomas Müller, FC Bayern Munich (FCB) popularly states: “We’re actually arguing about who’s gonna make up for the other person’s mistake”. Of course, one should not resort to arguing, and Müller is certainly referring to the willingness and the implementation competence to correct mistakes immediately or to make amends when such repairs are no longer possible.

Errors (Fig.1: A), which are at the end of a decision process, feel unpleasant. Restrictive behavior in companies is primarily the result of avoiding these unpleasant feelings. Even well-intended advice is not helpful here: “make mistakes” or “make mistakes as early or as quickly as possible”. In this case, a mistake , and its resulting emotional impulse, signals only that we should act again. Anyone who misinterprets this impulse and does not proceed to correct the effects (Fig.1: A) is already making a second mistake, which further intensifies the unpleasant effect.

KiE - Design specification of an failure culture
Figure 1: Design specification of an failure culture

Action, and even non-action (Fig.1: 2), have an effect (Fig.1: 3) that can never be completely controlled. If a “desired” effect occurs, it is declared a success; if it is missed, it becomes a failure. If someone gets hurt or a norm is exceeded, the preceding decision (fig.1: 1) counts as a failure. Mistakes are usually only an evaluation of the effect of the action like good versus bad or positive versus negative: 

  1. “good” effect = success or luck, if the effect occurs unexpectedly.
  2. “bad” effect = error or bad luck, if the personal or denied contribution is small

The effect, which is not entirely controllable, arises from the action (Fig.1: 2). However, we look more at the decision (Fig.1: 1), in which all the emotions act in the range of the dysfunctional, including fear (concern for safety) to guilt and shame (belonging achieved through performance). If mistakes are perceived (Fig.1: A), all basic emotions also act in the dysfunctional area. There is the sense that the concern for safety (fear) as well as the influence to use an advantage (anger) were missed. Something or someone has been harmed (guilt) or one has failed to measure up to the occasion (shame). A functional failure culture is oriented towards this emotional sequence: 

  1. to perceive and acknowledge the error (Fig.1 A), without ifs and buts, as something that has happened and is over.
  2. often the error can be corrected (fig.1: B), as the quote from Müller points out. If this succeeds, everything is good and only the unpleasant feelings remain, which could still be regulated. Afterwards, the individual and the entire team are again motivated and competent to act, also to correct mistakes.
  3. if the mistake cannot be corrected, “damage” has occurred. Here, after the problem has been perceived and recognized (Fig.1: A) the damage must be reduced (Fig.1: C). This must be done with the same commitment as the correction (Fig.1: B). In the example of the soccer game, the situation with the goal against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) occurred when Thilo Kehrer (PSG) made the mistake and Kingsley Coman (FCB) headed the goal. Afterwards, the PSG players were not able to consistently implement the failure culture.

For a successful failure culture, damage that has occurred must also be managed with follow-up steps (Fig.1: D and E). The “damage” must be compensated for. Often, an “I’m sorry” or an apologetic raising of the hand is enough, which the Bavarians have shown again and again. In this way, the guilt can also be minimized with an appreciative gesture. The acknowledged good intention relieves the burden on the responsible party and underscores the successful processes behind the decision (Fig.1: 1). Of course, in formal business relationships, a different “currency” than hand raising is often common and formally necessary, but the dynamics behind the mode of representation remain the same. This process creates the desired failure culture and everyone is ready to work towards success again.

The failure culture is weakened if the discussion of the question of guilt takes place before correction (Fig.1: C before B) and compensation have occurred. The almost tumultuous skirmishes on the playing field are evidence of this; the yellow penalty cards show how bad things can be added to the bad.

Often, the first step of acknowledging the mistake does not successfully take place. This avoidance can act as a major inhibitor (Fig.1: A’), which became more and more apparent in Neymar’s behavior during the second half of our example soccer match. When things went wrong, the emotions offered to provide a solution: tears of sadness were shed. Grief is part of the experiential process that replaces the past and makes learning possible.

Failure culture in companies

In a company, rational, or at least conscious decisions are expected. In soccer, intuition (Fig.1: I) is often necessary for success, as it is in management and agile cooperation. Intuition becomes art and necessity at the same time. Regardless of whether we have made a conscious or an intuitive decision, an effect will be created (Fig.1: I, then 2 and 3). Even if we want to positively influence the effect, regardless of the way we have decided, we cannot ultimately control the outcome. This is what it means to be human and what makes up not just soccer and agile cooperation such as management but our daily lives.

In the field of tension between well-intended and “bad” effects, guilt and shame are the main factors when damage has occurred and because one wanted to do the job well. However, these are precisely the emotions in addition to grief that are not yet considered acceptable in companies.

Companies demand knowledge on why the design of the failure culture should be chosen according to the individual’s emotions because, so they argue, people also feel other impulses for their behavior: “Why should I do this?” or “This is his or her fault! Independent of individual perceptions, the logic of emotions provides a sequence for the natural failure culture. The emotions provide the impulse to act in order to do well.

If one deviates from the procedure, this experience (Fig.1: G) can have an aggravating, or even inhibiting, effect on learning (Fig.1: F). In the Emotion System of individuals, the learning experience cannot become firmly established and the culture of error is prevented not only by those who challenge it but also by those who would like to live it.

Change to a functional failure culture

Failure culture develops with DecisionMaking in a self-responsible and self-organized way. The design for the transformation process is created with agile procedures and KiE-DecisionMaking. The chance of stakeholders to get what they need increases. People begin to understand each other and work together more closely.

The DecisionMaking Processes can be used with the digitized DecisionMaker for both face-to-face and remote collaboration.

KiE-DecisionMaking Processes
Figure 2: KiE-DecisionMaking Processes

“Who has made a mistake and does not correct it, makes a second one.” Confucius

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Graf, Richard: Die neue Entscheidungskultur: mit gemeinsam getragenen Entscheidungen zum Erfolg. Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH Co KG, 2018

Picture credits cover picture: Sportschau 23.08.2020. Available until 23.08.2021 ARD

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