Blog post

Why we talk about our mistakes

January 11, 2023

Every two weeks, our solutions engineers gather for a meeting we call our 'Engineer Huddle'. This time and space allows for our engineers to talk about a variety of topics and issues related to Salesforce solutions, problems encountered, best practices, updates & new features, but also mistakes and failures.

This is critical for the team and the company. By intentionally coming into a space to talk about ways we've messed up, we are encouraging vulnerability, trust, and better future outcomes.

And it starts at the top.

The most recent huddle started with our CEO, Sam, talking about one of the biggest mistakes he made when he first started the company. It was a careless oversight that had a devastating impact and he was terrified his business was going to be over before it had really began.

He told the group the story of what happened, admitted where he had failed, shared what he and his small team did to rectify the situation, and then most importantly, recalled what lessons he had learned from this huge mistake.

And this example of learning from failure is often modeled in the company. OpenTent strongly believes that we grow and do our best work by talking about and working through our mistakes. In that spirit, we spend valuable time encouraging teammates to share about and commune over, failure.

It seems like this would be a recipe for a terrible meeting. One might think that people would feel hesitant and scared to tell their work teams where they had fallen short or performed poorly. We are supposed to be achieving excellence and showcasing top performance! We are taught, from an early age through school, media and our entire cultural system, that we should never show weakness or admit failure. If we want to succeed in life, we need to be a rockstar at everything we do and let our shame or disappointment only come out in secret.

But what if instead of pretending we don't fail and hiding our mistakes, we talked openly and even humorously about them? What if the VERY ACT of communicating your failure made you MORE trustworthy, respected, and valued? What kind of environment would that be?

That's the kind of workplace we want to be. The kind of place that spends almost 2 hours finding genuine value and connection through admitting the hard stuff. And laughing about it, TOGETHER. And asking ChatGPT (a new-ish AI generative text tool) what to do about each mistake spoken, and then posting the responses in the chat. The kind of place where the nonverbal cues - head nods and looks of knowing disbelief - emanating from the zoom screen create a sense of authentic community.

You can't find this kind of team-building exercise on any list or consultant-led retreat. You can't replicate it by talking about success only. This kind of experience - the kind that solidifies teams and celebrates the creative ingenuity one can only get from messing up, sometimes in a big way - is limited to doing the hard thing: Talking out loud about failure.

And if we want to continue to grow, learn, and trust each other, we have to keep this practice ongoing. We have to create the time and space, regularly, for teammates to talk openly about what happened and why, and then what they did to make it better. As a company that works with nonprofit organizations solving the biggest issues of our time, it's the least we can do to ensure we DO get it right, usually even better than we imagined.

To learn more about OpenTent's way of Working Out Loud, get in touch here!

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