responding to mistakes, part 2

As I have been thinking more about how to respond to mistakes, (check out part 1 here) one of the challenges that I face is knowing when to jump in and take control and when to let things play themselves out.

For many of us, working with volunteers each week, it can be really easy to just do most of thedifficult stuff ourselves, because we know how to do it and it would be so much faster to just do itourselves.  In the short term, this saves us time each week.  In the long term, we are spending a lot of time on stuff that other people could learn to do and thrive at.

The trouble with planning for the long term, is that it requires living through a certain amount of immediate pain.  For someone to learn how to do something requires them to live through all that comes with it:  the obvious parts, the parts that are easy to forget about and the crisis that can happen in the midst of it.

For people to feel ownership, and to feel like they are not being micromanaged, they need to be responsible for all of the above; the good and the bad.

As a leader, it is important to not give people too much ownership, if they can’t handle it.  Responsibility is something that needs to get released over time, in ways that give the greatest chance for the person to succeed at the task.

OK, so let’s say that we have given someone appropriate amounts of responsibility, and something bad happens in the moment.  How do we decide when to jump in and when to let the person figure out what is happening?

First of all, I wait a few seconds, allowing the other person time to react.  Seconds seem like hours, but I try to remember that it is only seconds.

During these few seconds, I try to measure how big the mistake really is.  Will the service come to a stand still?  Will only a few people notice?  Could I solve the problem faster than the person in the seat?

Depending on the answer to questions like these, I will do one of three things:  let the person figure it out, offer a verbal suggestion, grab the fader myself.  Each response will be in direct correlation to what I know of the situation and the person in the situation.  If I let them work through it, will it tank the service?  Will jumping in save the service?

Regardless of what I choose to do in the moment, I always do 2 things after the moment.

I make sure that I talk through the mistake with the team, figure out how/why it happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Critical to following up a mistake is to make sure that your team understands why it was bad, and what values the mistake might have violated.  Without this step, it doesn’t matter how you respond in the moment, if you don’t have a mechanism for correcting the mistake.

The second thing I do is to take the heat for the mistake myself.  I don’t throw the team under the bus, I own the mistake.  If I am the one deciding whether to jump in or not, I need to be the one who represents that decision.  Generally speaking, mistakes can be linked to a process issue, not a people issue.  I will always blame a process before telling my leadership that a team member is bad.  The process could be cue sheet related, it could be that person wasn’t ready to sit in the seat (my decision), or there is a missing step in getting ready for the service.

There is never one right answer to the question of when to take control.  

Do you always default to taking control, or do you weigh each situation different depending on the person and the scenario?


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