How can I help my team avoid making silly mistakes?

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Dear Joan:
I manage a team of eight project managers who are responsible for production of books. We have well-defined responsibilities and structured procedures for individual tasks. But in a rush to finish the projects, my team often ends up skipping certain procedures and makes silly mistakes (such as sending a wrong email to the wrong person). I simply can’t find a way out of this situation. Is there a way I can ensure procedures are followed and avoid silly mistakes? Many Thanks.
 
Answer:
The busier they get, the more mistakes are likely to happen. I’ve also noticed that there are other factors that contribute to making errors. For example:
  •  If a manager puts pressure on the staff to meet production needs, quality will often dip.
  • If a manager is breathing down the neck of the team—watching and correcting—mistakes will be made because the staff is edgy and nervous.
  •  Another cause of mistakes is lax standards. For instance, in one company there were few expectations and little supervision, so the staff got sloppy.
  • Another causal affect is preoccupation with outside events—or inside dramas (like a pending merger or leadership change).
  • Lack of ownership can also cause frequent mistakes. The employee doesn’t pay attention to details because he or she doesn’t really care that much about the outcome. It’s just a job.
  • And a more recent development in the workplace is multitasking. New studies are out which clearly show multitasking causes a significant drop in effectiveness on all tasks that are done at the same time.
Do any of these ring true for you and your team?
 
One of the first steps is to make sure the team is made aware of the increase in mistakes. But if you take a blaming, punishing approach, you will get resentment rather than results. Instead, bring the subject up using neutral words. Let the team save face—none of them have deliberately set out to make a mistake.
 
For example, “I’ve been noticing an increase in little mistakes lately. Have you noticed we’ve been dropping some balls? I know we are all crazy busy and juggling as fast as we can, but let’s talk about some of the things we’ve noticed and see if there are some ways we can catch them before they happen.”
 
If they don’t come forward with things they’ve noticed, you will have to bring up what you see. Don’t point out individuals in front of the group. Call on the group to come up with little steps they can do to avoid mistakes in the future. For example, before sending any email, check the To, CC, and Subject line. Rather than simply talking about it, it might be fun and more effective, for the group to come up with some phrase/mental cue as a reminder: “Check before you click,” for example.
 
If there are one or two people who are making more errors than the rest of the group, don’t make everyone sit through a group session to talk about it. Instead, work with the person one-on-one. Too often, I will hear about a manager who addresses the problems of one person by bringing it up generically in a team meeting. The rest of the group resents it. They are thinking, “Why doesn’t she just go talk to him about the problem. We all know who she is talking about. Why is she wasting our time? Is she so afraid of confrontation, she hasn’t got the guts to go directly to the person with the problem?”
 
Finally, take an honest look at your own behavior. Have you been pushing the group to go so fast, they are making mistakes? Are you insisting on so many procedures, they are taking short cuts to get their work accomplished? Have you downsized your staff too far, and now they are unable to keep up with the workload? Is it time to bring in outside help?
 
Mistakes are indeed human. But use them as an opportunity, not to place blame.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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