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How Sharing Mistakes Can Strengthen Your Company

Most of us spend our careers trying to avoid making mistakes -- and failing that, trying to hide them. The problem with this way of doing business, of course, is that it makes it hard to fix errors, and even harder to learn from them.

monkey (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Venture capitalist and blogger Tomasz Tunguz recently shared a story from his days at Google that proves that encouraging teams to share mistakes can be the best possible thing for the company.

Tunguz worked for the AdSense Ops team, where the director, Kim Malone, had a unique way of encouraging team members to share mistakes and support each other's successes. Every week, the team had an all-hands meeting, at which Malone distributed two stuffed animals -- Whoops the Monkey and Duke the Dog.

Duke was given to the worker who went above and beyond for his or her team that week. The winner was determined by the group, after everyone volunteered stories of colleagues who exceeded their job description to make the team a success.

Whoops the Monkey, on the other hand, was the award workers probably didn't want to get:

"At the mention of Whoops, a handful of team members would stand up and one-by-one retell the story of a mistake, big or small," Tunguz writes. "It might have been a mishandled customer case, a forgotten internal data analysis or causing a car accident on the way to work. Often, the team's managers and directors contributed anecdotes. Once or twice, an employee's Whoops mistake cost Google millions of dollars. After hearing all the yarns, the team voted on the worst mistake and Whoops would be thrown from one side of the room to the other, finding the 'winner' of the competition who would put the monkey in his or her cubicle for the week."

Can you imagine volunteering an anecdote about a personal error that cost your company millions of dollars? And yet Google employees on Malone's team did, apparently without fear of reprisal. (Other than having a stuffed monument to their mistake decorating their cube for a week.)

By making the sharing of mistakes part of the culture, Malone allowed her team members permission to admit to -- and learn from -- their errors. She also, as Tunguz points out, "created a culture that valued learning and camaraderie over pride."

Tell Us What You Think

Does your company encourage employees to share mistakes? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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