Doing this instead of blame will make your team happier and more productive

Something is always going to go wrong. The more you grow your role in any organization or the larger you grow your business, the more is going to go wrong. Once you have 10 people in a team, the chance that someone is making a mistake right now is pretty much 100%. The question is how do you deal with mistakes so your team makes fewer of them, but without you having to be the parent and oversee every single person? You can’t scale that way, you will run out of you.

It is a natural instinct to start blaming when things go wrong. Out of habit we look back to see what happened and identify where a step was missed or not executed to a successful outcome. Then we get out the correction stick to prod the person in that role to do it right the next time. The blame stick can even be wrapped every so lovingly in a puffy lambs wool cover with a ribbon, but it’s still blame. You know when you’ve been hit with it. It sounds something like, “Thanks for your effort John, but this didn’t come out the way we wanted, perhaps I can help you with it next time, or you can stick to the procedure we outlined. Try to hit the milestone next time.” That sounds pretty good. It’s not derogatory or insulting. It’s gentle and corrective. However the listener still hears that they did something wrong and they need to improve.

Well what’s wrong with that? They did do something wrong and need to improve. It’s true, however there is an alternative approach that will get you better results and empower your team members instead of shutting them down. It’s really simple too.

When you feel the blame stick coming out, try switching to asking for creativity.

When you need to course correct a team member or an entire team, or you find yourself wanting to reach for the blame stick, instead act like a click bait headline and ask, “How can we come up with 5 ways to do this better?” It’s a simple and profound distinction. Instead of asking a person who is at the center of a mistake, that may not even be their fault due to external factors, to fix their errant ways, just ask for new solutions.

This does a few things that are subtle, but amazing.

  1. It doesn’t blame, so there is no emotional penalty
  2. The focus is now on the process and how to make it better instead of a single mistake
  3. It engages the team instead of an individual
  4. It encourages experimentation and to try new things — Innovation!

Ask yourself what you would prefer to happen after you made a mistake? Would you like your boss or partner to even politely tell you to fix your mistake and do it right next time, or engage in a discussion on how to improve the work so that problem is harder for anyone to run into regardless of who is at the helm?

2 thoughts on “Doing this instead of blame will make your team happier and more productive

  1. Great post, John. Here is a quote by Eric Ries along the same lines:

    “If a mistake happens, shame on us for making it so easy to make a mistake.”

    (From book Lean Startup)

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