Is your company learning all it can from its mistakes? Consider the approach used by Shirley Singleton, CEO of Edgewater Technology, a $12-million custom-software solutions developer in Wakefield, Mass. Once a month, various employee teams gather for a case study discussion. During the discussion, a short list of humorous song titles is displayed, each one relating to a recent problem for the firm. Employees are asked to select which "song" they want to hear.

Singleton leads a spirited discussion, involving everyone in the room. Could the problem have been prevented? Is there a win-win solution? She hands a key to each employee who offers a constructive insight. At the end of the meeting, those with keys try to open a treasure chest--but only two keys can open the lock. The first person to open the chest finds $200 wrapped in golden ribbon. The second keyholder gets the booby prize: cheap steak knives, which drive home the point that success comes from being first with customers. If no key fits the lock, the prize money is doubled for the next month.

"The treasure chest may sound corny, but it works," says Singleton. "It's hard to get employees to focus on accounts other than their own. The treasure chest generates excitement and keeps people attentive at meetings. We all learn."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing