D. Harrington: Excusable Team Mistakes

I reviewed some books in my collection to look for some publications that could possibly provide answers. I found one book given to me as a gift by my manager, Col. Jose Reyna, in 1999. In this book is an article titled "How to Use Team Building to Foster Innovation Throughout Your Organization" by Skopecc and Smith in 1997.

Team members have a right to expect patience and even forgiveness at times on the part of the leader. New ventures and new ways of doing things involve risk of all concerned. If the penalty for mistakes is termination, docked pay, or organizational shame, no team member will give his or her best efforts or ideas to the team process. Deborah Harrington-Mackin, in Keeping the Team Going, has collected from managers and supervisors an insightful list of team mistakes that can be pardoned or used without penalty as a learning experience. A team's mistakes can be accepted by management if:

+ It doesn't have significant negative impact upon the company.

+ It is a first-time mistake, not part of the pattern.

+ Team members were working outside the team's responsibilities.

+ The team member was following explicit instruction or following the proper procedures.

+ The team member was working with shared equipment that is not always available.

+ The team learns from the mistake and is able to say how it will be avoided in the future.

+ The mistake occured within the scope of the team's authority in pursuit of the goal.

+ The team was really trying to do it right.

+ The team's actions were consistent with the policies and rules of the company.

+ Incorrect information was given to the team.

+ The team was taking initiative and taking risks.

+ Procedures weren't clearly defined.

+ Different skill and ability levels of team members caused erratic results.

+ There were extenuating circumstances.

+ The situation was outside the person's control.

+ The error was not caused by negligence or lack of action.

+ There were time restraints.

+ There was poor training.

In effect, the list says to teams, "Mistakes are part of progress". Harold Geneen, former CEO of IT&T, puts the point well: "The best way to inspire people to superior performance is to convince them by everything you do and by your everyday attitude that you OVERWHELMINGLY support them".

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