Replace one question that doesn’t work with two that do.
There is a question that leaders ask when something goes wrong. This question carries a price that plays out over time and can cost more than the issue, failure or problem that prompted the question.
“Who did this?” is that question.
With this message, the team hears that finding someone to blame is more important than finding the cause of the problem and fixing it. The person at fault endures the public flogging. Some leaders see this as placing accountability. I see it as a costly distraction from learning, growth, and solving the problem.
The witnesses who are standing around looking at their shoes have just been inadvertently trained to keep their heads down, one hand at their side to ensure they never volunteer and the other hand free to use as necessary for protection. Subsequently, people don’t speak-up when they should for the good of the business or the team. Staying out of the firing line becomes more important than taking action, risking failure, and doing what is best for the business.
Avoid this by establishing behavioral norms as a team activity at the outset. This is part of defining how the team does what it does. When the team agrees that identifying problems and mistakes quickly and preventing reoccurrence is a priority, replace “Who did this?” with “Why did this happen?” and “What must we do to ensure it does not happen again?” Conventional wisdom regarding peeling back the onion here is that the “Why?” question needs to be asked at least 5 times to get to the root cause.
The person who disappoints or fails in some regard almost always knows they have. Related discussions both team and individual are important and valuable. The primary focus should be solution, learning, and growth. Disciplinary action (verbal or otherwise) is appropriate and a part of a mission of learning, growth, and improvement – but that discussion should be private. Remember that basic supervision class years ago?
Results come from coaching and facilitating, not from being a boss. I’m the Outsider and that’s what I think.
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