Mistakes Are Necessary!


This week  two different practice owners emailed me with concerns over the

team’s inability to implement all they had learned at a recent workshop.


Has this scenario happened to you?  You conduct a team meeting – You are clear, crystal clear on how you would like a task done in the practice.  Yet – low and behold the next time you observe your team in action – you do not see the results you expected. Nope – they are not getting it right, not even close to what you envisioned!   What do you do? You have another team meeting and get more adamant. Guess what, on the next observation, you see a slight improvement but the team is still not where you want them to be yet.  Sometimes it takes a third and fourth conversation by then you and the team member is exasperated.   


 What if this is how we are wired?  What if it’s not possible to skip these “mistakes”?


Trying to understand this myself – drove me to research and I appreciated reading about how we learn to see if there are any shortcuts.  This is one of the best models of learning that I have found.  

Its called the 4 stages of learning by Noel Burch of Gordon Training International, 1970)   When you read this – you’re going to smack yourself and say – “now that makes sense”! (the commentary after the stages are my take on the meaning)


Stage 1.   Unconscious incompetence:  This is a blissful state! Not even aware that a necessary task is not getting done or not done right at all.  

Usually the state I find teams in when I begin coaching.


Stage 2. Conscious incompetence:  Now you are aware that what you are doing is wrong.  This is the beginning of frustration for yourself and the team.  What a frustrating stage to be in!!! You and your employees begin to be painfully aware of the gap between where your abilities are and where you want them to be.  Often the team puts up their defenses and resistance. No one likes the feeling that they are not meeting the grade. This is where you all need to practice “JUDGEMENT RELEASE”

This is the stage where you make a lot of mistakes – A lot! Mistakes do not mean you or your team is no good, or that they will never get it. 

It’s necessary to achieve.  Practice and more practice is how you gain mastery 

Stage 3:  Conscious competence:  You can do the task right if you concentrate and focus. Some attempts you succeed, sometimes you fail.  Often a team member falls back into the old way of operating to avoid disappointment.

This is the stage where a team member gives up or the owner or leader becomes exasperated.  because it takes effort and they will experience success and failure.

Stage 4.  Unconscious competence:  You are nailing the task and not even giving it another thought.  This is the stage you feel mastery and the stress over this task is a distant memory.


Moral of the story.  Let’s not make learning more difficult than it is already. Bad feelings of “not doing it right” will choke a team’s progress. Instead, realize that the very fact they are making mistakes simply means they are practicing what you are aking.  If they continue to practice you will have the team you desire. The team that makes work look like a breeze. 


Inspire your team.  Make sure they know you believe in them and will support their attempts at mastery.  Let them grow by daring to make mistakes. Create a safe environment where they dare to try. Then and only then will they thrive and start to nail your expectations.

I would love to give credit to the right person for this graphic…. Not sure who to give credit to.