Error Extinguisher

This week’s trek is inspired by Princeton Review founder, Adam Robinson’s recent research on why people make stupid mistakes.

You know that feeling when someone on your team totally blows it? 

It happens. We all have to untangle snafus on occasion. Once the error is corrected, though, we don't always take time to ensure it won't happen again. 

According to Robinson, there are seven factors that contribute to human error. He believes that you can prevent mistakes from happening in the first place if you work to eliminate those seven factors from your work environment. 

Introducing Your Error Extinguisher Exercise

What It Is
A 15-minute exercise to look at the things you can do as a leader to help your team avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Why We Love It 
We all know that little slip-ups happen and sometimes aren't worth sweating because they likely won't happen again. However, when mistakes occur regularly enough that they become a pattern, you gotta find ways to course correct your team. This exercise offers up a simple approach to analyzing the factors that might be contributing to your team's errors.

How It Works

1. Identify a situation where chronic errors seem to be occurring on your team.

2. Take a look at
the seven factors below and identify which ones might be present when the errors in #1 are occurring:
  • Context: A change in routine or environment
  • Groupthink: Pressure to conform
  • Authority: Being in the presence of an expert (this could be you!)
  • Focus: A task that requires intense focus
  • Strain: Information overload
  • Rushing: A sense of urgency or pressure to rush
  • Stress: Fatigue or physical or emotional stress
3. Of the items you identified in #2, consider what you might be doing as a leader to exacerbate the presence of those factors. Keep in mind that all seven factors don't have to be present to contribute to human error. If you've only got a few, it can still be beneficial to work through. Some examples:
  • Context: Do you provide the right structure, context information, and environment for your team to succeed?
  • Groupthink: Does your team feel they can discuss opposing views openly even when they don't fall within party lines?
  • Authority: Does your team feel pressure to please authority? Do you loom over team members when they're trying to complete tasks?
  • Focus: Do you allow for adequate downtime between cognitively draining tasks?
  • Strain: Do you organize information in a manner that's easy to follow? Do you keep your team focused by avoiding nonessential details or oversharing?
  • Rushing: Do you create unnecessary feelings of chaos or immediacy when accomplishing tasks?
  • Stress: Are you sensitive to signs of fatigue on your team? Do you consider how your team's emotions might be affected by your actions?
4. Identify one thing you can do in your list from #3 to alleviate pressure on your team and test it out this week. As you try it out, keep tabs on the following:
- Is there a shift in the team's ability to accomplish goals?
- Is there a reduction in errors?
- Is there a shift in team dynamics or overall mood?
Want to dig deeper? 
Here's what your fellow trekkers have to say about past treks:

"The Wake-up Call trek really hit home for me. My best days are the ones when I avoid email until as late as possible and this reminded me to stay mindful. It's key to make sure I get grounded first so I can give important things the attention they deserve."

Vijay Rajendran, Director of Innovation and Partnerships @ 500 Startups
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Shankar Desai