Are you the sort of manager that whenever things go wrong you are immediately looking to find out who is responsible within the team? If you are then read on to discover the negative impact this can have on the team and what you can do to correct it.
Many managers will argue that unless they investigate the mistakes made they will not have the opportunity to put it right in future. Whilst this can be true we need to be aware of the negative impact this can have. People make mistakes, including the manager and this is a fact of life. If too much focus is given to finding the person responsible rather than improving the systems, people will begin to feel de-motivated and this will result in yet more mistakes.
Dr Deming, a management guru who used to study the process of continuous improvement, discovered that 80% of the time when problems occur, it is usually a system problem. For example it may be that the procedures make it difficult for people to do their job easily. It may be the I.T. systems do not really help individuals to do the job well and are too time consuming. So when something does go wrong it would be safe to assume it is something to do with the system than the person.
Another effect of looking for someone to blame is that people become frightened to admit their mistakes and start to hide or cover them up. The result is that this will often have more serious consequences for you and the organisation. The rogue traders in the city who have lost millions are an excellent example of this.
If you want to stop the blame game and have a more positive impact on your team, then you need to consider how to change your approach.
A more productive approach is to create a culture of continuous improvement. Ensure that you build in monitoring systems that will pick up errors at an early stage and then use coaching to help the team improve. Most people do not want to make mistakes and will naturally try to do the job right. Show that you understand this and be supportive when things do not turn out as expected.
Encourage the team to problem solve together and listen to their suggestions for improving the systems you have. As they are the people working with the systems your team will often be better placed to come up with ideas.
When coaching people through challenges, ask them to recount what happened as you may find that your original assumptions were incorrect. People feel disheartened when they are blamed for something that was outside their control. Aim to look at the situation from their point of view.
Teach your team how to look for the root cause of problems, especially those that occur regularly. One method is to use a ‘Why – Why’ diagram. This involves asking yourself why something has happened and then for each answer asking ‘why?’ again five more times for each response. Analysts like Dr Deming have discovered that you need to go to this depth to really find the root cause of a problem. Only then can you really address the key causes and have sustainable solutions. Other techniques include the Ishikawa diagram named after the person who created it. This method often known as the ‘Fishbone’ diagram because the shape resembles a fish skeleton also looks at getting to the root cause of the problem.
Problems and mistakes will never stop happening, so get used to it. Instead of viewing them as a negative thing, help the team to learn from them and encourage them to think of ways to improve the situation. Be supportive so that they are not frightened to own up and take responsibility. This will build a much more positive and less stressful atmosphere. It will also lead to better ways of working which is good for everyone.
Head of Training