How can my team celebrate mistakes (we are big on test and learn, but what happens when we genuinely fail?)

Home » How can my team celebrate mistakes (we are big on test and learn, but what happens when we genuinely fail?)
How can my team celebrate mistakes (we are big on test and learn, but what happens when we genuinely fail?)
We take a look at 10 different ideas to help you team learn from failure. It can be important to acknowledge (even celebrate) mistakes. A Failure Wall is one way to do this.

Over 10 different ideas to help your team learn from failure.

Firstly, let’s look at why it’s important to celebrate mistakes – it is becoming more accepted that a growth mindset at work leads to better results.

We take on feedback and challenge ourselves to always do better. But of course this implies that we aren’t perfect, that we will try to do something and not succeed and it is important to create for ourselves the space to fail.


“One of the best ways to create this space is to celebrate failure when it happens,” says Mark Barber, an agile practitioner in Melbourne. 

Mark explains, “We can do this in many ways but it is important to do this openly so that we make it okay for everyone to do so. A few examples may be:

  1. Create a failure wall
  2. Talk about failures at showcases
  3. Base retrospectives around what wasn’t successful

Mark says, “Most importantly, talk about what you learned from that failure because failing without learning is simply failing.

Some people, especially executives, find the concept of failure hard to digest, but learning, on the other hand, is something we can all get on board with.”


Caitilin Studdert is a principal at ADAPTOVATE in Australia.   She suggests four ways your team can ‘lessen the hurt’ and ‘increase the happy’ with failure.

  1. Cost out what would have happened and what it would have cost us long term if we didn’t ‘fail’ now…  i.e. we didn’t launch ‘x’ product on ‘y’ date because of this bug, but if we did go ahead and launch, it would have cost us ‘z’ in three months’ time when our accounting didn’t reconcile
  2. Set up a huge sign that says: “We didn’t nail it but what did we learn” – then facilitate your session so that everyone can contribute – don’t have leadership put forward their reasons for the ‘failure’
  3. Set up a ‘FIVE WHYS’ session with FOOD galore – using the techniques from Eric Reis’s Lean Start Up get to the root cause of the problem to figure out why we failed. Information is power and food generates good discussion every time
  4. Have real business examples of so called ‘failed’ attempts before great success 

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Rachna Verma, a senior consultant in Australia believes the old adage that the best way to get good at something is to teach it.

Known as ‘The Protégé Effect, the website effectively says it’s “a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information.

For example, a student who is studying for an exam could benefit from the protégé effect and improve their understanding of the relevant material, by teaching that material to their peers.”

So teach your failure.

Rachna explains, “Create a learning example from the experience and share it with your team so that they also learn from the experience and as a team you all grow together.

Some of the biggest learnings come from failure so it is important to capture this. And the best way to get good at something is to teach it!”


It is important to mark the end of Failure. One advantage of sprinting is that you have time boxes where work is contained and completed. When things fail, it is important to stop working on them, to stop both the activities and behaviours which contributed to them.

Steve Walton, a project lead in Australia has 3 top tips to celebrate failure.

  1. Hold an event to mark the end of the work which failed. This makes it clear that the failure time box is finished to both those inside and outside the team. One team I worked with held a brief memorial service for a piece of code at the end of a showcase to mark they had buried it. Another had a Friday afternoon clean down of their team area, clean walls and freshly washed desks.
  2. Do something to mark that you are working on something fresh. It could be a team building activity like refreshing norms, a social activity like a morning tea or a reorganisation of the team area by changing where people sit or putting up new posters. The idea is to re-form the team physically (without changing team members).
  3. Work with the product owner/sponsor to re-state the team mission to help the team to refocus on their mission. Inclusion of the sponsor helps them to also close out the failure in their mind and focus on what they want the team to achieve next.


Malar Singaram from our Singapore consulting team shares this anecdote: “On a previous scrum team, we had a life-sized cardboard cutout of a famous personality. If you broke the build, showed up late to standup, violated the team working agreement — you had to carry the cutout with you (meetings, elevator, etc.) for the remainder of the day or until someone else made a mistake.

It was a light hearted way to accept mistakes but still be encouraged to learn from the experience,” Malar said.  And we say – why not!  So, to make it easy for you – here you go.

Tom Holland Cardboard cutout.  You’re welcome.


Ok.  Finally, we know this article is all about how do we celebrate mistakes.   However, we want to clarify that statement.

We all agree that a company where errors are given a place of honour is considered modern and innovative.

Teams should be encouraged to make mistakes. But errors are a means to an end, not the goal.

We shouldn’t celebrate mistakes, but what we learn from them.

Ewelina Winska, is an agile practitioner in Europe.   She’s also the MD of Girls in Tech Poland and a PhD Candidate in Computer Science.   So basically, technology failure (and the approach of test and learn) is not foreign to her.

Ewelina believes “To succeed in a fast-changing world, adaptability to uncertainty and experimentation are crucial. Teams that can learn and adapt fast to what the real world throws at them, thrive and grow.”

And that requires making mistakes and learning from them. When you celebrate mistakes, you learn more from the mistakes you make,” she says.

Ewelina provides these steps on how you can “celebrate” mistakes:

  1. Set the Stage: make sure everyone feels safe in the retro
  2. Gather The Data: what happened, make sure everyone has the same picture
  3. Generate Insights: analyze the data to find root causes
  4. Decide What To Do: what are experiments that could help us to improve
  5. Closing: don’t just walk away but close the retro with an activity.  Introduce blameless culture
  6. Make it transparent. Write it on a flipchart and place it in your team room.
  7. Work it out. When the time comes together with the team you can cross out a mistake from the list.
  8. Go and grab some icecreams – you can celebrate now!

Ewelina leaves us with this inspiring quote from SarVesh Jain – India’s youngest philosopher.

“Admitting your mistakes makes you humble. But not repeating your mistakes makes you clever.” 

We would like to thank the following contributors to this article:

Mark Barber

Malar Singaram

Caitilin Studdert

Rachna Verma

Steve Walton

Ewelina Winska



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