Managing The Impact of Mistakes in the Construction Industry


Posted 01/02/2019 by Emma Blair

Mistakes rarely come without consequences.


Especially when those consequences live long in the memory.


For anyone who has ever made a mistake whilst building a (complex) Lego model with their children, it often happens that you only find out many pages of instructions later. Then you have to undo much of your hard work and work out where you went wrong. For an adult who theoretically has a finely-tuned attention to detail this is always a little embarrassing, but it is always a source of amusement for the child in question. “Ha, ha, Daddy can’t do Lego.” Assembling Ikea furniture sometimes throws up similar challenges.


Apart from the mocking comments from offspring and partners, the ripple effect of making mistakes while constructing Lego models or Ikea furniture do not live long.


It is not as if they spending millions on a bridge that doesn’t meet in the middle.


I am sure that we have all seen that meme picture of the bridge that is fatally skewed and doesn’t meet up. I am not sure whether it is a trick of perspective and angles, but it illustrates an interesting point about the construction industry.


Mistakes by one person can have serious consequences on the work of others.


No matter what your role might be in the construction industry, you are always aware of the fact that your work is intimately connected with that of many others. If you make a mistake (that isn’t picked up by your manager or team), you risk making the lives of others that little bit harder when it comes to light and it is time to unpick it. You might argue that this is common across many industries, but the connected nature of construction means that the ripple effect is particularly prevalent.


Then the blame game begins.


In certain company cultures, there is a “duck and take cover” mentality when mistakes come to light. No one wants to take responsibility and even taking part in the dialogue to find a solution can imply partial culpability. People are afraid of making mistakes and they therefore often “play it safe” when decisions need to be made. Working in such an atmosphere is not enjoyable, but thankfully not every construction environment is like this.


The best employers understand that people need to be forgiven in order to try again.


We hear lots of stories during interviews about things that haven’t quite gone to plan. The best candidates tell about how they managed the fallout of the mistake but also about how their bosses handled the process. In such cases, there are often a series of mistakes over a period of time, but every time the candidate learned something and was allowed to move on. These mistakes did have an effect on others, but because these others were allowed to make mistakes too, they were far more forgiving and positive about finding a solution.

A mistake that is swept under the carpet is not a learning experience and it is highly likely to happen again. A mistake that is forgiven and dealt with properly is not so likely to happen again. In the second case, other mistakes may also happen, but it is only because people are free to push the boundaries and they are growing at the same time.


The construction industry needs people with innovative ideas and ambitious approaches – in such an environment mistakes are to be expected, but if everyone deals with them as if they are part of the job, there will be acceptance rather than blame.


Everyone will help to rectify your mistakes just as you will help them to rectify theirs.


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