If you’re in a management or leadership position, you’ve been through it — that moment during the interview when the person conducting the interview asks about a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it. This question allows the interviewee to make the case for a moment where a mistake became a learning opportunity. After all, we all make mistakes. It’s what happens afterward that sets us apart.
Too often, we frame mistakes as something negative, even though whoever makes the error is likely feeling poorly for their role in it. Instead, this experience can be positive — a learning opportunity and the chance to make them feel safe about owning up to their mistakes and proposing a solution. By creating psychological safety, you can shift away from the negative and encourage problem-solving.
Let’s explore the benefits of a problem-solving approach. But first, a look at what psychological safety is and its importance.
What Is Psychological Safety?
Since the onset of the pandemic, with stress running at an all-time high, workers shifted to a quest for environments where they can feel not only seen and heard but valued. More than ever, creating a psychologically safe environment is crucial for retaining talent, creating high-performing teams, and encouraging personal and professional growth.
According to Forbes, “Psychological safety is the ability to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. In the workplace, it is a shared belief held by members of a company, department or team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” (Martin, 2021).
Creating the space for employees to voice their concerns free of judgment or risk of negative backlash is at the heart of psychological safety — bringing empathy as the focus behind it all.
Benefits of Fostering a Problem-solving Environment
As a leader who aspires for their team to thrive in our ever-changing world, creating psychological safety is essential to open the space for interpersonal growth and self-improvement.
Creating psychological safety allows employees to take interpersonal risks in a group, such as speaking up when something isn’t right, sharing creative ideas with the group without fear of judgment, and knowing it’s okay to make mistakes. Plus, studies have shown that the more a company fosters psychological safety, the lower turnover becomes.
Creating a problem-solving environment teaches employees critical skills to foster innovation. Top skills developed through problem-solving include:
- Listening skills – Some of the best problem solvers are those who listen actively.
- Analytical thinking skills – Those who can logically work through problems and mistakes are typically the same people who can come up with creative solutions.
- Data gathering – Sometimes, to solve a mistake, we need to gather data on the effects of that problem.
As a leader, a problem-solving environment begins with you. Leadership is responsible for setting the standard of innovative thinking, psychological safety, and inclusive conversations with whole teams for decision making.
Steps to Create a Problem-Solving Environment
Problem-solving is a muscle that needs to be trained. These are the steps you’ll need to take for a solution-oriented approach to any mistake:
Identify the Consequence
Unfortunately, the only way to discover a mistake is often after it is too late. Once things go wrong, you want to identify what’s going to happen as a result in order to prevent or address it in a timely manner.
Identify the Responsible Person/People
Once you find the issue and possible or tangible consequences, it’s time to find who did it. However, there’s a caveat — the goal is not to place blame or threaten.
Approach the responsible party from a place of empathy to create psychological safety. Acknowledge that they are human and encourage them to have a conversation about the mistake to help them open up and propose solutions.
Focus On Curiosity — Not Blame
Allow the responsible party the opportunity to give all the facts, explore the possible causes for the error, and allow them to offer solutions.
Approaching the situation with a sense of curiosity rather than blame can help them achieve the feeling of winning the day by resolving the mistake.
Trace the Root Cause and Find the Gaps That Could Have Prevented It
If something went wrong, chances are that a) there wasn’t a process in place (likely because the situation is a first) or b) the existing process wasn’t followed to a T.
Either way, a mistake is an opportunity to improve these processes by defining new steps to prevent this mistake from happening again. Or if a process isn’t in place to prevent the error, this may be an opportunity to explore creating one.
Once You’ve Done What You Can To Prevent the Mistake From Happening Again, It’s Time To Move On
Once all is said and done, there’s no reason to dwell on the mistake. Instead, a forward-thinking approach when talking with everyone involved can help them feel ready to move forward.
Treating mistakes as learning opportunities, you make space for growth as a leader and for your staff. A growth-oriented team is in a better position to think innovatively and explore new paths without fear of repercussions.
Organizational growth begins with personal growth. Are you ready to lead? Book a discovery call now to explore your options.