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Costly errors = huge opportunities

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

by Morey Stettner

When I worked for a big corporation, we'd hold management meetings that doubled as postmortems on every big mistake we made. All of us would dissect what went wrong (a botched product rollout, a customer service disaster) and analyze our role in the collective blunder.

These meetings were painful, especially when the error fell mostly in my court. But sharing my experience—a misguided assumption I made, a detail I overlooked—proved strangely liberating. My colleagues wouldn't try to make me feel better as much as shift the focus to the future so that we could avoid such mistakes again.

By depersonalizing the situation, we were able to put our heads together to learn to improve without pointing fingers or casting blame. It actually brought us closer as a team.

Based on your calls and e-mails, I gather that many of you do not work at organizations that conduct constructive postmortems after big mistakes occur. Instead, you dread the repercussions of every bad move you make—even if you acted sensibly and your decision backfired through little or no fault of your own.

To foster a more open, collaborative culture, I recommend that you conduct postmortem meetings. But establish ground rules.

First, the group must agree that the only people who can discuss blame are those who admit their own fault. In other words, no one can accuse someone else of screwing up.

Second, everyone in the room needs to address "What I've Learned." That way, participants have a chance to fess up to their role in the mess and what corrective actions they will take going forward. (Don't let the last few speakers say, "I second what others have already said." That's a cop-out!)

Bottom Line

To prevent a vocal employee from dominating your next meeting, begin by holding a vote (show of hands or collect written ballots) relating to the topic at hand. Then call on voters and ask them to elaborate on their views. When participants get a chance to chime in early in a meeting, it tends to undercut the influence of one loud or forceful individual.

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