Preventing Team Mistakes

Have you ever had this experience?  A team works on a project for a number of months, reporting their progress to you periodically and meeting deadlines and objectives promptly.  You are confident in the outcomes and look forward to the end product.  When the project is completed, however, you realize this team has made a few critical mistakes that limit the effectiveness of their work. 

Teams work best when given the freedom to creatively address issues independent of the normal way business is done in your organization.  Yet this freedom comes at the risk of mistakes, errors in judgment, or simple miscalculations.  Your response can easily be to micromanage the work of the team, limiting their effectiveness.  Instead, consider these ideas to prevent team mistakes.

Appoint a Devil’s Advocate Role

In a team dynamic there is a lot of pressure to be a good “team player.”  As a result members of the team often find themselves going along in the direction of the team’s most charismatic and persuasive members.  Rather than raising questions that may be viewed by other team members as disruptive, people agree without challenge.  This type of groupthink leads to mistakes.

One way to prevent this type of dynamic is to assign someone on the team to be a Devil’s Advocate.  Let the entire team know that this individual has an obligation to question the team’s assumptions and present the group with possible negative consequences of actions and decisions.  Select this person carefully and explain to everyone the importance of considering all sides of an issue before taking action.

This role adds a counter balance to the normal team dynamic.  It actually, over time, teaches everyone on the team to be objective and open minded when proposing actions or solutions.  This need to justify instinctive positions keeps the team actively engaged in considering alternatives.

Aim for Diversity

What would happen if a team focused on an operational issue included someone from accounting or marketing?  The diversity of skills and experience would give a depth to the team that is unavailable if each member has a similar operations background.  The representatives from accounting or marketing would ask seemingly basic questions to build operational understanding and would challenge assumptions that the rest of the team never questions.

Team members with years of experience have a different understanding of issues than those who are fairly new to the job.  Individuals with a strong educational background view things in a different light than the experienced employee with a high school diploma who learned his skills on the job.


Observe and Participate Periodically

Regularly scheduled report meetings are not sufficient to prevent team mistakes.  Project teams develop a synergy that is effective and productive but must be managed.  How do you manage this synergy without disrupting it?  Visit the team and observe with an open mind.

When you visit the team and participate in their meetings, do so not as a leader or boss but as an objective and interested party.  Listen to the dialogue and the issues and try to ask questions instead of providing direction if you can.  You will learn a lot about the dynamics of the team and their direction from this interaction.

Consider sending other members of senior management to observe the team as well.  You will gain the perspective of their observations.  Make sure the team understands these visits are prompted by genuine interest in the team and not from a monitoring or management viewpoint.  After all, being on a team is exciting and the work they are doing is important.

Team mistakes are preventable.  Believe in your people and their ability to innovatively solve problems independently.  Build a diverse team, make sure they are considering all sides of the issue through use of a Devil’s Advocate, and take a genuine interest in their work.  You’ll be impressed and pleased with the result.


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