© 2017, © Emerald Publishing Limited.Purpose: Elements of national and organizational cultures can contribute much to the success of error management in organizations. Accordingly, this study aims to consider how errors were approached in two state university departments in Turkey in relation to their specific organizational and national cultures. Design/methodology/approach: The study follows a qualitative case study design, and the data were collected through five focus groups. The cases under consideration were two state university departments of different organizational sizes. Findings: The results showed that organizational and national culture elements (collectivism, high power distance and relatively low future orientation) significantly interacted with error management practices. In both of the organizations studied, there were found to be limited attempts to prevent the errors unless there was an emergent situation. Error detection was shown to be slow and hindered because of indirect communication among staff. Ultimately, effective error management in these organizations was identified as being unattainable because of negative emotional reactions to errors, lower reporting, restricted communication, potential face loss considerations and lack of feedback. Originality/value: The findings of the current work extend earlier error management research with empirical data drawn from two cases in the higher education domain. Thus, the study offers preliminary research into the error process in education, and contributes to future research relating organizational culture to error processes.