It's always easier to blame others. When something goes wrong, it is natural for us to try and find a scapegoat. While this may help us feel at ease in the short-term, it's things like this that destroy teams. In early stage companies, drama can destroy your startup fast. And as a new venture you already have the odds against you, so the last thing you need is internal problems.
What's interesting is that by keeping a level head when things go wrong, you can make much better decisions. When we don't let our anger overtake our thinking, we are much better in deciding the right course of action. To do this effectively, next time someone messes up ask yourself the three questions below. Not only will your culture improve, but you'll also make wiser decisions. People will take more risks, and you'll be more respected as a leader.
1. Is there a problem in the process?
I believe that most of the problems caused in startups happen not because of bad people, but because of bad processes. When someone messes up, the first thing you should criticize is not the person, but the structure you have in place. Is there a standard protocol for the situation that happened? Is that way of doing things the most efficient as possible? When you start to think in a operations mindset, you stop yourself from making emotional decisions. Looking at the process puts your mind in a third person mindset, thus allowing you to take a look from the outside.
Lets say your current process is great, but the person still isn't performing well. Are you sure the reason that person is underperforming doesn't have something to do with your hiring process? Looking back at some of the people I've let go in my company, I now know I put them in the wrong seats on the bus. The way we ran our old recruiting process set these people up for failure, which is why they did not perform well. It wasn't a problem in the people; instead it was an error in operations.
2. Could I have communicated better?
Alongside of your process, communication is one of the greatest reasons for screw-ups. As your company grows, you'll begin to notice this becoming an issue more and more. There's a reason why large companies innovate slower, and it's because communication takes longer. Research shows that when teams start getting too big, they start losing productivity.
One of the ways I've found to prevent this is to not hire unless I have to. Not only does communication improve, but also expenses decrease. Another question to ask when someone messes up is who is that person's main point of contact. Many times, the person who made the error doesn't report to you.
Through trial and error, I've learned the benefits of being able to speak directly with everyone on my team as a startup. For you as the leader, not having to go down a ladder to get the person you want is crucial. It allows you to innovate faster and make sure everyone is on the same page. If an error in understanding does happen, check to see if you have the right communication tools in place. Services like Slack and Asana are great resources that I use in Alumnify all the time to be able to access anyone on our team that I need to.
3. How can we avoid this next time?
When you get upset and bring down a team member, it never pays off in the end. Emotions get crazy, and people start parting ways. The feelings spreads to the rest of the company like a virus, and soon a small feud turns into a big problem.
Instead, next time something goes wrong focus on how this is going to be avoided next time. It's tough to hold your emotions back, but doing so and focusing on the future will save you a major headache. People mess up all the time, especially in startups. Being allowed to take risks is how you bring innovation into an organization. So when something goes wrong, remember that it's part of the process. Go back and figure out what needs to be fixed, and keep striving forward. Making mistakes won't kill your company, but reacting poorly when you make them will.