Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they are silly, sometimes they are critical and unexpected, and sometimes they are both.

But the worst thing is to embarrass in public those who made the mistake! I can tell because occasionally my reports emphatically shout "Hey, I found this mistake. This was surely because X and Y etc... [random technical details].." for the whole office to hear.

While I accept feedback and am always ready for improvement, I am uncomfortable with public shaming (I literally cringe and close myself).

What can I do to keep my reports enthusiastic and with an investigative mood, but not advertise their findings to the whole company? :-)

  • 7
    Why do you feel it is public shaming if no persons are named, only technical details mentioned? And have you actually talked about this with your team members? Sep 26, 2014 at 9:48
  • Does your team share the office space with other teams? Is that part of the issue--that other teams hear about the mistakes?
    – mkennedy
    Sep 26, 2014 at 16:50
  • Are you sure your team members are embarrassed by these outbursts or are you?
    – user8365
    Sep 26, 2014 at 20:33

4 Answers 4


You are getting this completely wrong. Whenever a mistake is found, it is an opportunity to learn, and that opportunity should be shared. Sometimes the mistake is funny, and that can be shared. Your team members know that mistakes will be made, it's a fact of life, and there is nothing to hide. And there's always the possibility that someone has made a note of a problem they found, and put a task on their "to do" list to fix the problem, and when they hear of the mistake they know that the problem will be gone, saving unnecessary work.

In many situations what is count is the end result, and communicating about mistakes being made improves the end result.

The exception is of course when admitting to a mistake means legal liability, or if you encounter people who don't understand the development process and panic when they hear about mistakes being made.


I think you need to look at this differently. If they no longer feel free to bring up things that are wrong, then they will start to hide mistakes to please you instead of fixing them. That is a bad thing. I have seen it happen when a boss made it clear that he didn't want to hear about mistakes.

What you want is teach them to bring up errors appropriately and in a positive way to get them fixed. You need to set the tone that it is a good thing to bring up errors. You need to set the tone that you want to hear about problems in the code. You need to set the tone that the discussion should be about how to fix not who to blame.

However, there are inapproriate ways to do that. And you need to set the tone here as well. It is not inappropriate to do the following:

  • Mention in a team meeting that there is a problem in XYZ and that you need to coordinate with Joe to figure out a solution.
  • Get excited about finding a problem that has been plaguing the team for a long time and spontanously say something like, "Yes! there you are you sneaky little bug." But no naming names as to who made the mistake.
  • Bring up a performance problem of an individual who is making too many and too severe mistakes to you as the boss in private.
  • Talk in the hallway about how hard it was to figure out what was going on in ABC and hey that debugging technique might help you with GHJ. Again with no names named as to who caused the bug.

Places where is is inappropriate would be:

  • In a client meeting unless it was specifically called to get to the bottom of a particular issue.
  • In a meeting with other teams within the company where they do not do the same sort of thing. You don't want to look worse than the others.
  • When there is name calling or put downs of the skill levels of some other people.
  • When the focus is who can we blame, not how do we fix.

How to get people to do the right thing in regards to bugs? First make your expectations clear in a team meeting. This wil require some introspection on your part because you can't be vague here, you have to say explicitly with examples what you do and do not want them to do. And you have to be careful that the discussion includes how to bring it up as the last thing you want is for them to think you want mistakes hidden.

Next, if people start to go off the rails and start blaming instead of focusing on the fix, then interrupt them and refocus the discussion. If someone continues to behave badly, then talk to him privately, tell him his behavior is unacceptable and handle it like any other performance problem.


This is a classic introvert/extrovert problem.

  • Extroverts are fine discussing this sort of thing in public and don't care at all. Public shaming/praise is fine.

  • Introverts however generally do not like to be made into a spotlight -- regardless of whether it's a positive or negative.

What you are feeling is normal for a large percentage of the population. You luckily are the manager so you can initiate conversations on this more easily. There are a couple ways to get there.

  1. Directly address this at a team meeting. You can do a variety of things, from mentioning "hey I've had some concern about the way we publicly report bugs in our team, let's brainstorm some alternatives. I love the way you are all so enthusiastic and I don't want to lose this!" to having a discussion on personality types to all sorts of things. I've seen discussion on personality types to be really effective too (have everyone do Myers Briggs, regardless as to whether you "believe" the results it can provide a huge starting point for talking through how different people are.
  2. Find some alternative way. There can be a lot of ways to keep the enthusiasm. Have a "bug of the week" submission contest. Or a shared email inbox for your team only where you have a submission process. You can brainstorm these with your team too.
  3. Have a bug tracking system. If you don't have this add it now!

Many people will react in a "oh! I didn't realize this made you uncomfortable!" manner if you address this with them (I've had this experience a ton, I am very introverted and have talked through this subject with people frequently).


Why on Earth should mistakes be considered shameful and especially publicly shameful? If you don't think that by finding mistakes, you and your team are looking out for the organization in general and looking out for the culprits in particular, then your team is better off without your leadership. By finding the mistakes, you and your team are literally giving your org and the culprits a second chance. Especially if the mistakes are critical. Don't think for a moment the org's most valued people are not capable of making critical mistakes.

As a software engineer, I have zero tolerance, understanding or sympathy for those testers or any code reviewers who believe that I should be ashamed of my mistakes. I make my share and often more than my share of mistakes - some of them ridiculous, and I don't care who knows it!

Are you new on the job, or what? Your reports are NOT being malicious! They are NOT calling out the culprits for making mistakes, for crying out loud! And it is more than a little probable that their enthusiasm is rubbing off on each other, and it is essential for their morale that their enthusiasm is rubbing off on each other. Because their effectiveness depends on their attention span and their capacity to pay attention day in and day out depends on their level of enthusiasm - Don't mess with that! I would consider that the fact that the entire office can hear as a small price to pay for the enthusiasm and effectiveness with which they are performing their job.

You should be looking out for your team, protecting them and being an advocate for them instead of cringeing in your foxhole. As a leader of this team, you need an attitude adjustment. Or you don't deserve to be their leader. Because I'd be quietly proud as hell and I'd feel that I have more good luck than I deserve to have such a team working for me!

  • Maybe the question was updated since your answer, "for the whole office to hear" is the salient issue. Problems can be identified and fixed within the confines of the team.
    – user8365
    Sep 26, 2014 at 20:31
  • @JeffO I am not even concerned about "for the whole office to hear" Sep 26, 2014 at 21:09
  • What does this have to do with what you think? The question is how to get people to stop. The problem doesn't go away because you don't think it is a problem.
    – user8365
    Sep 30, 2014 at 3:27
  • @JeffO Why should I make a "problem" that's not a problem go away? I have other things to do than solve "problems" that are not problems. Just because someone calls it a "problem" does not make it a problem. Sep 30, 2014 at 3:38
  • @JeffO I gave the OP the option to stop being a team lead - I am giving you the same option. Sep 30, 2014 at 3:48

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