we have monthly meetings about everyone’s mistakes

A reader writes:

I’ve been working for a small company (10 employees) for almost a year now and I almost entirely love it. The exception being our monthly meetings where our boss starts off my addressing everyone’s mistakes from the past month. My boss generally doesn’t use names, but people often know or can reasonably figure out who the person was that made the mistake. Sometimes people are named, sometimes people are thrown under the bus by other coworkers, sometimes people start debating the mistakes that are being discussed.

I have had numerous coworkers vent to me that they feel attacked in these meetings. Everyone seems to think all the blame is on them.

I have grown frustrated with this process. I don’t feel that it’s productive, and it seems to make everyone feel unappreciated and discouraged. I don’t think anyone appreciates having their mistake publicly aired or debated in front of them. And some of the topics seem downright petty, like pointing out that someone didn’t throw the paper plate away after taking half of the last cookie. My boss never swears and they actually threw out the work “frickin’” when discussing this scenario.

Maybe I’m wrong? Please let me know if this actually is a productive or helpful way of ironing out mistakes in a small company. I suppose that it can bring to light mistakes that everyone should avoid. Though I would also assume that all our employees are actively trying to avoid mistakes of any kind.

Otherwise, I’m considering approaching one of the two owners about how this is handled. Given that I’ve had three coworkers, plus myself, all frustrated at how this is handled, I’m thinking our boss should be made aware that it doesn’t come off as productive and is leading to disgruntled employees? Please advise!

That sounds pretty awful!

In the most generous interpretation, it’s possible that your boss genuinely thinks it’s helpful to discuss mistakes as a group so that everyone can learn from them. And there are definitely times when that’s the case. Sometimes it can be useful to debrief how something happened and what to do differently in the future. Sometimes it’s really useful to get a variety of perspectives on that, because some things are tricky enough that having multiple people grappling with a problem will get you to a much better solution.

But the way it’s happening at your office, it doesn’t sound productive. It sounds like people feel defensive and criticized, and it sounds like your boss is running down every mistake, not picking specific ones that would truly benefit from a group discussion. (Paper plate disposal?) It sounds punitive and petty. And does your boss also meet with people one-on-one to give feedback? Or is it only happening in these group meetings?

Do you have pretty good rapport with your boss? If so, I’d start with her. You could also see if a few of your coworkers would be willing to bring it up with you at the next meeting (although if your boss tends to get defensive, you’re probably better off talking to her privately rather than putting her on the spot in front of the group). But it’s very much a reasonable thing to bring up, and you can explain that it’s not that you don’t want to hear about your mistakes — it’s that you want to do it in a way that isn’t going to make people feel publicly criticized or blamed.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. ShutemDownOpenUpShop

    I have been here! I made a big mistake once, and my supervisor addressed it VERY POORLY in my opinion. A few months later during a training, her pulled me aside 5 minutes before a meeting and said “I’m going to pull up your incident report…..for training purposes.” Even though he changed identifying information, it was VERY obvious to people that it was an incident I handled. I even remember the glaring eyes in my direction. The training was supposed to be about “incident report writing,” but the mistakes were more about how I handled the incident and less about how I wrote the incident report.

    I felt my boss was TOTALLY out of line, but I was young in my career and did not feel I could approach the situation and give him the feedback.

    I like Alison’s advice about bringing your colleagues together to address it. If multiple people are expressing that the meetings make them uncomfortable, then your supervisor will hopefully self-reflection on this tactic.

  2. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    Is your boss Kim Jong-un? If so he is being lenient, because normally mandatory criticism sessions are weekly, not monthly…in North Korea.

      1. Foreign Octopus

        I had to read this a couple of times before I realised the words are what the are.

        I’m not curious as to what you have planned for next week.

        1. MuseumChick

          This sounds like mere incompetency to me rather then that more borderline evil for some of the this years Worst Boss nominees.

          1. Alli525

            I think the good detective is referring to whomever is the subject of the Kim Jong Un reference in the yet-to-be-published letter… not the boss in this letter.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        I…could really get behind a New Year’s series in which various high-ranking government officials write to Alison about problems in their agencies, thinly disguised with teapot alpaca analogies.

        1. SarahTheEntwife

          YES.

          If you don’t want to stray into too obviously contentious political territory, they can always be comfortably historical officials.

          1. Anony

            “Our CEO conducts seances in order to consult his predecessors, relatives, and several of his dogs (all deceased) about corporate plans. Please advise.”

          2. Had Matter's Pea Tarty

            “My boss just died and now the entire staff is going to be walled up alive in their tomb. What are my legal rights and how do I approach HR about this?”

            1. Anony

              “My boss appointed his horse to the board of trustees.” “My boss has started dressing as holy figures during meetings and has declared himself the Sun.” “My boss feeds our clients to the lions when he’s bored.”

              To be fair, some of the horrible bosses on here could easily credit Caligula as an inspiration if they so desired…

          3. Antilles

            I think that could actually be fascinating – I really enjoyed the letters that AAM posts once a year or so about literature/movies/TV.

      3. Cant

        You do understand that they can and do deploy warfare-level hacking attacks against people who publish bad publicity about their country’s leader, right? There’s lots of public news reports available on the topic.

        I’m not saying don’t do it. The guy deserves all the criticism he gets and more.

        I’m more saying that if they target you over some minor flippant comment, I’d be disappointed to not see posts for a while and sad if that impacts your financials related to this web site.

    1. No Parking or Waiting

      That’s what this is. It is not a tool to improve productivity, production, workplace morale or cooperation. It is to remind everyone who is in charge and how much control he has.

    2. Emi.

      Everyone should write a self-criticism, and then the worst offenders have to wear signs around their necks with their names upside-down and crossed out in red ink. And the boss beats a gong.

            1. RB

              Are you ever able to trace these bad practices back to a management seminar or university class or anything like that? Not so much the dunce caps but the public airing of grievances or that sort of thing? Maybe it is a good idea gone wrong, like they wanted to give people a chance to vent, but found out there is no way to do that without it becoming a bitch session?

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I was reminded about the utopian sex cult in 19th century upstate NY, which did this stuff to prevent the sort of festering resentments that build up in a tight community all living in one giant house.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Do you happen to know the name of the utopian sex cult? Cause I would love to read more about this.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius

    I’m convinced this airing of the grievances occurs because management thinks one-on-one conversations are too awkward. Addressing individual criticisms in groups dilutes the discomfort for management but rightfully pisses off everyone else.

    I wonder how many work hours get wasted because employees are busy trying to figure who screwed up. Oh I’ve never seen a case where the offender never thinks it’s him.

      1. ShutemDownOpenUpShop

        Agreed, I have worked at a job in which the culture was to address blanket problems to a group of 32. “Remember everyone…do A…not B!” Instead, th things need to be addressed in a 1:1 so it is “Jane Doh, do A…not B!”

        1. Newbie

          My current work culture is very similar to this, and I agree, it stems from management and the owner not feeling comfortable to address things one-on-one. Thankfully not all the managers are like this, it’s mainly the owner. If he sees anything that he doesn’t like or rubs him the wrong way it’s sent out as a general email to 40 people. And then he’ll continue to send email after email after email because the 1 person out of 40 inevitably doesn’t read the email or realize it’s about them and don’t change their behavior. It’s VERY passive aggressive and also overbearing.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      OMG I literally just got one of these emails from my boss. There are four of us. I know who the damn offender is!!!!!! Go talk to her! Please! Because the offender is going to pop in my office in two minutes to ask me who is the offender and what’d s/he do?? Before another half hour of my life gets wasted!!

      1. Sam

        Oof. Do you actually end up breaking the news to the offender? What a crappy (and ineffective) way for your boss to handle this.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius

          I would but…

          I applied for that job and didn’t get it. My boss makes at least $25K more than I do.

          Don’t want to do her job for free, especially when she was specifically picked to do it.

      1. Murphy

        I mean, don’t we all sometimes wish we could go into a work meeting and say “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people?”

    2. Falling Diphthong

      It’s like a twist on the group email. The one person you hoped would take the group email to heart always knows you meant everyone else.

    3. myswtghst

      Yes, I wondered the same things. I’ve been doing training for call centers for what feels like forever, and have seen the same thing so many times. Rather than sitting down one-on-one with the employee who made the mistake, managers would send the training team an email asking us to include something about the error in a future training. Thankfully, my bosses have been supportive of using data to make those decisions, so we always made a point to get details on how often it’s happening, what percent of the population, what’s the impact, etc… and were able to push back if it came out that just one person made the mistake one time.

      OP – If you speak with your boss, maybe you could encourage them to use these meetings to focus on recurring errors that multiple people are making (or are likely to make) and discussions around preventing those errors, rather than one-off issues. I’ve also found it helpful (as others mentioned below) to ask people to share their own challenges and how they overcame them, to encourage ownership instead of turning it into a round robin of “not me!” blame-shirking.

  4. AdAgencyChick

    Public discussion of mistakes should be reserved for mistakes that the entire team could learn from not repeating, and even then, if the identifying details are obvious and the team is small, it might be better to discuss with each individual on the team what they should be looking out for in the future, rather than dissecting the mistake in front of everyone.

    Praise in public, criticize in private!

        1. Jadelyn

          Your boss is the one who’s wrong.

          I’ve never understood what people think is to be gained by publicly humiliating people. Because that’s what those public call-outs are, really – a form of public shaming. It’s punitive, not corrective, and in the end all you do is create bitter employees and/or employees who hide their mistakes in order to avoid being humiliated with them. If you criticize in private, you get employees who trust you enough to come to you for help when they make mistakes and employees who are more receptive to coaching and training so they don’t repeat those mistakes.

          1. Carrie

            I can see two potential problems with “praise in public, criticize in private”, but neither are addressed by the kind of meetings that the OP’s boss is pushing.

            1. Some things need to be addressed in the moment, even if they’re happening in public. Since OPBoss isn’t addressing things in the moment, obviously this doesn’t apply.

            2. Some people, especially the anxiety-prone, might get the impression that they’re the only ones ever being criticized under this system. The veil of fake anonymity is more likely to give these people more to worry about than reassure them.

            Neither of these are reasons to chew people out in the middle of the open office, of course, they’re just factors that practitioners of “praise publicly, criticize privately” should be aware of.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      This whole comment is perfect.

      With the caveat that *if* the person who made the mistake is comfortable discussing it in a group setting, that would be okay too. I’ve been in that position before and I didn’t mind standing up and saying “I did X and Y happened and we need to make sure that for Z to happen, we correct A and B before doing X.”

      But I also understand that not everyone would be comfortable doing that and I would never force anyone to.

    2. Jesmlet

      My boss always says this and then never does it. Just this morning we got an email with a screenshot of something someone did wrong where it was 100% obvious who it was, saying “THIS CREATED A LAST MINUTE MESS FOR TWO HOURS YESTERDAY”. If he had just sent out the reminder of how that particular thing should’ve been done, no one else would’ve known who had made that mistake. Calling people out like that instead of discussing anonymously or privately makes people feel like shit. It’s not productive or conducive to future improvements and only serves to make people feel embarrassed.

      So again… Praise in public, criticize in private!

      1. Sam

        Yeah, there’s a big difference between having a direct conversation where you explain the impact an error had on the organization/specific coworkers and public shaming. I do think it’s important that people who make careless mistakes realize the full scope of the consequences, but doing it publicly is generally not going to help the situation.

    3. LSP

      I used to work at an organization where someone in leadership took the exact opposite approach. She would ream people out in public, being rude, snippy and really out-of-line, then she would apologize privately, explaining that she was upset about something completely unrelated and outside the control of the person she dressed-down. And she seemed to think this was perfectly fine, since she did apologize after all.

      She also thought praise was best served in the form of stupid little rubber stars, that she expected people to keep out in the open in their cubes (and a lot of people did, just as a way to suck up to her).

      I was fortunate enough to have close family members who happened to be good friends with her, so I was never her target, but she did it to enough people I liked and respected, that was enough for me to write her off completely.

      1. The Supreme Troll

        Her “apologies”, however, could not make up for her thoughtlessness, or anger – which she had failed to work at controlling.

    4. Anne (with an "e")

      Well, yes. However, make certain that the person/people who are receiving public accolades actually deserve them. Earlier this month my sister’s supervisor sent out a company wide email thanking her team for a project they had completed. Her supervisor then went on to say that Malificient deserved special recognition for going above and beyond, and for making such a remarkable contribution to the success of the project. My sister and Fergus did the majority of the work, while Malificient’s contribution was extremely minimal. My sister was incensed and demoralized by this email.

    5. LBK

      Yeah, there’s a time and place for a group post mortem to discuss a specific project or problem where everyone potentially has something to contribute or something to learn. There’s nothing to be gained from calling out an unknown office litterer in a group setting (or really at all, IMO).

  5. No Parking or Waiting

    Your boss has taken the general email reprimand to the next level (of hell).
    Seriously, do you celebrate Festivus there, too?
    These are not a where did we go wrong, what can we do better meetings that are very necessary and very helpful when projects go badly. Even when projects go well. But to pull everyone together to list how they failed the boss as employees (and as humans, I mean, the frickin’ cookie had nothing to do with work) is a sick and twisted misuse of power.

  6. Footiepjs

    This sounds like a nightmare. Are there any meetings that include regular praise? No wonder people are feeling unappreciated.

    1. OP

      We do get “staff appreciation” meals twice yearly, but no specific acknowledgement of jobs well done. Unless you happen to brag to the boss about a specific thing which you did well. And which is very unlike my personality.

      1. esra (also a Canadian)

        Well this all sounds like the super worst. I’m another public praise/private criticism fan, so that combined with basically zero public appreciation? Woof. I worked at a small family business that seemed way more interest in playing the blame game then ever actually solving problems. It was the worst year of my life.

  7. Foreign Octopus

    This sounds absolutely horrible.

    I definitely agree with Alison here. Approach your boss (as a group, if possible) and try to put an end to this. It must be incredibly demoralising. Also, if your boss gets defensive about something like this in front of a group, well then, it’s case in point that bringing up mistakes in a group isn’t great.

    (Also, this gave me huge flashbacks to the um-ah letter not too long ago.)

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    Ugh, this sounds awful, OP. Your boss should be bringing this up privately with folks, and in the context of team projects, should facilitate helpful “post-mortems” (or debrief, or whatever terminology they want to use). At least, then, folks can identify problems and troubleshoot instead of getting stuck around blaming and humiliation.

    Publicly airing “mistakes,” especially trivial ones about office cleanliness, not only creates a culture of blame and stifles productivity, it also indicates that your boss has no ability to prioritize between mistakes that “matter” for workflow/production and mistakes that are about minor or interpersonal issues (your boss may be able to prioritize, but the current approach doesn’t demonstrate it!). Each of these kinds of mistakes categories requires different treatment/approaches.

    If you have a good relationship ship with your boss, giving your boss different tools or mentioning how the feedback could be packaged in a more productive way could be a huge plus for everyone.

    1. Cassandra

      I also was wondering whether this boss heard about post-mortems on a noisy conference exhibit-hall floor and completely garbled what they are for and how they are supposed to work.

      If this is the case, OP, then Boss needs to know that post-mortems are not supposed to be held over trivia, a key component of good post-mortem practice is avoiding blame-and-shame, and the goal of good post-mortems is to avoid a repetition of whatever the problem was.

      Linking my handle to a Rogue One post-mortem from the point of view of the Empire. It’s hilarious, but also a pretty solid example of the breed.

      1. Marthooh

        “Large portions of the Imperial Army are deficient in marksmanship and cannot be counted on when needed.”

        *All the stormtroopers try to point at each other but miss.*

        1. DArcy

          Stormtroopers being terrible shots is such a weird meme given that we actually see them being deadly accurate except when firing at Act of Plot protected main characters, and even then it’s in situations where they were clearly ordered to make sure the Rebels thought they were getting away.

          (This is especially egregious in A New Hope, when the entire Imperial plan to track the Millennium Falcon to the hidden Rebel base is dependent on the Rebels being allowed to successfully rescue Princess Leia.)

  9. Murphy

    Ugh…that really sucks.

    I think I mentioned this in the comments of a different letter recently, but at my old job, we had this through department emails. Manager would just send out an email saying “Hey guys, don’t do X. Also, don’t do Y.” So we would all talk about it together. “Well, there’s only one person who could have done X” “Who did Y?” “Oh, I’m definitely Y!” Manager never actually spoke to the individual about these issues, some of which arose from complaints from other departments/volunteers, and our side of the story was often really different!

    Their defense was that “if one person did X, then maybe everyone needs a reminder” but I still really hated how it was handled. I think it’s fine to say “Let’s clarify our policy about llama wrangling” rather than “Somebody didn’t herd the llamas in single file…” when everyone knows who that someone is.

  10. Mazzy

    I work in a role related to financial services where certain jobs process hundreds of types of non-regulated transactions behind the scenes and they can go wrong in a myriad of ways. The idea of this meeting actually do any sound bad to me, as long as it isn’t framed as a mistakes meeting. I think it makes more sense to let people do the work and have….oversights…and then address those, rather than train for months on every single possible error or combination of transactions that might result in one error in a hundred thousand. Better to just address the freshest ones as a group to give people an idea of what type of things can go wrong.

    1. No Parking or Waiting

      This is get. A post mortem. What went well, what didn’t. They are great tools. Unlike the LW’s boss who is just a frickin’ tool.

      1. JulieBulie

        Right – a proper postmortem is not about name-calling or blaming, and it’s not about paper plates. It focuses on how to do a better job next time. OP’s situation just sounds like the boss’s personal Two Minutes of Hate.

        1. Mazzy

          Very well might be, but the letter doesn’t give any details about how the meeting is conducted. None. It is only mentioning how people feels. Those feelings are a definite sign the meetings are at the very least not effective, but doesn’t really give us so much information to work on. I’m actually surprised the concensus is “wow horrible meeting and boss” given how little information we actually have. Maybe that’s my “bias” being in a role where I often say something like “you couldn’t have anticipated this at all, but this is not correct because of xyz. Thank you”. And as impersonal as it is, some still take it a bit personally

          1. Blue

            You’re right that we don’t have much info, and I get where you’re coming from because my job also frequently involves correcting people, none of whom I have any actual authority over. But some of the specifics we do have, like the boss getting actively worked up about someone not throwing away a paper plate, suggest that this is a very different situation with someone who’s not interested in a productive dialogue. I think that’s what people are picking up on here.

              1. JulieBulie

                Yeah, the “blaming” thing might or might not be subjective, but a serious business meeting that is intended to identify opportunities for improvement should never include griping about paper plate disposal.

                And the whole thing about throwing people under the bus. There are ways to do a postmortem without creating more casualties.

                (I quickly gave up reading on phones. My eyes cannot take it. My brain cannot take it. And my fingers cannot tap out a suitable response. Even without interference from autocorrect, my phone-typing is dismal.)

    2. This Daydreamer

      Yeah. My job includes a quarterly meeting where we sometimes go over something that happened. It works for us for several reasons. We all share the attitude that everyone makes mistakes. It helps us laugh about a stressful situation after the fact. There’s never any sense of trying to assign blame. The quarterly meetings give us a rare chance to talk about the job with other people who get it. And we get some good advice from other people who have dealt with similar challenges in the past.

      My workplace isn’t very typical, though.

      At Oldjob this would have been an unholy nightmare. If the OP thinks this is going to go bad, they’re probably right.

  11. MuseumChick

    Oh god no. I am a very shy person with anxiety issues. A meeting like that would send me into full shut down mode probably followed by crying when I got home.

    This is something that I think you will have to push back on as a group.

  12. Lala

    I’m tempted to suggest that the next time you have one of these meetings, you throw in with “And there’s a mistake Boss has been making in how s/he does their reprimands,” and then lay out all the reasons why these monthly meetings are such a bad idea.

    1. Anony

      I had a boss who would bring up her own mistakes in meetings as an fyi so that others didn’t make the same mistake. No one felt attacked when she did the same thing with other people’s mistakes because it was always presented as a really easy mistake to make (and she didn’t name anyone). That was a productive way to do it.

  13. Anonymous Poster

    There are situations where it’s very helpful to go over how something went down as a group and then on how to fix it. It’s tricky to do well because you have to avoid blamestorming, and an atmosphere where you know that people generally are trying to do their best. If you have that, then you can problem solve through some really hard situations!

    That is not what’s happening here. I’m sorry you have to deal with it. Try and address it if you can, but if you cannot, consider what other options you may have. Best of luck.

  14. ShutemDownOpenUpShop

    In my current line of work we are on a duty rotation. In a weekly meeting the people on duty are supposed to talk about what happened when they were on duty and how and why they made the decisions they did. It is supposed to help us collaborate and make better decisions. Our director never makes me feel like my mistakes are out there. She always backs up my decisions, but talks about how we as a department ( her included) can improve.

    Maybe your supervisor is trying to do this…..but very poorly.

  15. All Hail Queen Sally

    Oh, this is just awful. I would not enjoy this at all. Who would? I think having a group talk to the boss together is the best thing to do.

  16. Akcipitrokulo

    Yeah, wrong way to do that. We do retrospectives which until recently were monthly – and were very successful because there was an atmosphere of trust, genuinely promoting a no-blame culture, and everyone got a chance to raise positives and negatives from the month. Which then were discussed.

    It needs to be a collaborative, no-blame exercise if you’re going to get any benefit from it.

    (Also we went for team lunch immediately afterwards which made it a good day :) )

  17. Lizard

    At the medical practice where I work we have a monthly patient safety/root cause analysis meeting where we address lapses/problems that have the potential to cause patient safety issues. It ranges from things like “the computer was glitchy and it was hard to conduct the visit” to “We did not receive the CT report that showed lung cancer from the radiology report until the patient asked about it a month later and we called the radiology office, who had sent it to the wrong hospital and not called to alert us.”

    We try to make this very nonjudgmental and anonymous and have a general sense of “we need to make sure we are doing the right thing by our patients and address systemic problems” rather than “YOU DID IT WRONG” and I think in most cases we succeed. That may be what your manager is going for. I think maybe talking to them about what their goals are for the meeting and how to make it more focused on the system and the outcome rather than the person making the error might lead to a better reception.

    1. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)

      This was the first thing I thought of. In medicine, they’re called M&Ms (morbidity & mortality conferences/meetings), they’re a pretty standard part of training in many disciplines.

    2. OP

      OP here. I do feel that the INTENTION is to bring to light issues in order to better our practice, including safety issues. And that is an important agenda. However, 1.) as Snarkus Aueralius commented, I believe this is being done because the boss finds one-on-ones to be too awkward, or too inconvenient time-wise.
      2.) as No Parking or Waiting pointed out, the frickin’ cookie had nothing to do with work, but was a way in which we personally let the boss down.
      Typically the meetings are highlighting ways in which we could all do better, for the improvement of the company. They have taken a negative turn lately and our last meeting (when I wrote the letter) was filled with items not especially pertaining to work, such as the cookie.
      I do appreciate everyone’s comments and support. I plan on addressing one or two coworkers to see if they would support me in stating that it would be more helpful to address things one-on-one the next time something like this comes up in a meeting. The meetings get negative as coworkers become defensive, “It wasn’t me!”, and other chide in, “I always do xxx, (so it wasn’t me either)!”. There is one employee in particular who tends to be the driving force in this negative turn. It’s like our meetings are a show for thier personal opinions and a chance for them to get attention. I sense the bosses are avoiding one-on-ones with this employee. So, perhaps it would be better to sit down with my boss to state that mistakes and issues with employees should be made one-on-one and not publicly.

      1. hbc

        Hmm, so were the meetings fine until this one employee started to act up? It sounds like Boss went off the rails in the last meeting but that the major problems are with your coworker. (Which I will grant is also a problem with your boss since she isn’t corralling the behavior.)

        If so, any chance you can jump in and say, “Can we skip the rounds of ‘I didn’t do it’ and get on to figuring out how we avoid it happening again?” It’s not your responsibility, but it sounds like it would be good for everyone if you managed to cut that conversation off.

  18. Lilac

    I worked for a place where, every monday, my supervisor and trainer would sit me down and explain in detail every mistake I had made over the past week, then criticize the notes I was taking to try and learn from it.

    I didn’t last six months.

    This situation sounds damaging and untenable – I hope you all are boosting each other up outside of these meetings! This is NOT NORMAL and you deserve better.

    1. ShutemDownOpenUpShop

      They criticize you. and then criticize your method to try and learn from mistakes? Sounds like a horrible work place. “Learn, but only learn in the way we want you to learn.”

  19. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo

    The LW didn’t mention the phrase ‘No Blame Culture’ which usually proceeds being blamed for something. Yes a good postmortem can be helpful and a valuable tool. They rarely are though.

    One thing to note, if the level of mistakes being discussed deals with paper plates, I’d tend to mentally check myself out of these discussions.

    Here’s one suggestion that you might want to make with your boss. Instead of discussing mistakes, which I hope would be corrected at the time they happened instead of a month later, perhaps the discussions could be turned into ‘Near Miss’ discussions. These discussions can be more productive because they come from the perspective of we found something wrong, here’s how we found it and what to look for, and how the process can be corrected.

    Instead of saying “Screw up Alert: Jane messed up the monthly TPS reports again”

    the discussion becomes

    “Near Miss Reported: We found a recurring error in the Monthly TPS reports. It was found that the data inputs had a calculation error, which has now been corrected. The error was found because page 3 numbers didn’t match page 5 numbers, we should be doing a quick check on the following data points to make sure they match before sending out”

    One of these approaches is more helpful than the other for learning from. The only thing that is going to come from the monthly flogging sessions is people are going to get really really good at hiding their mistakes or throwing others under the bus to avoid scrutiny.

  20. Solo

    If your boss is absolutely committed to having _some_ kind of feedback sessions on a monthly basis, maybe suggest that it be revised to management sharing success stories from the month, and then opening the floor for employees to share a challenge they faced and how they overcame it (and maybe structure it so that people can *ask* for advice from the group if the challenge is ongoing).

    Small aside on the efficacy of feedback: There’s research on the effects of positive feedback (i.e., what went right) vs negative feedback (i.e., what went wrong) on tasks for people who are in or have recently gone through a depressive episode. For folks who have no recent experience of depression, negative feedback correlates to a *small* performance boost on future similar tasks. For folks who have recent experience of depression, negative feedback correlates to a *big* performance HIT on future similar tasks, whereas positive feedback correlates to an improvement in performance. In the US, on average, 1 in 4 adults have a recent experience of depression. I can dig up citations if OP (or other readers) are curious.

    1. JulieBulie

      What is the effect of positive feedback on people who haven’t recently gone through a depressive episode?

      Just wondering if there is any effect, and how does it compare to the effect of negative feedback on a person who hasn’t experienced depression recently.

      1. Solo

        IIRC, the effect of positive feedback was neutral for people who have *not* recently experienced a depressive episode. Basically, negative feedback gives a small boost for most people at the cost of a big hit for a significant minority. Positive feedback gives a boost for a significant minority at the cost of no effect on performance for most people.

        My approach to feedback since I encountered that research is to focus on identifying specific positives (“When you alerted Fergus about the potential issue, the two of you were able to come up with a plan and address it before it impacted performance.”) and address ‘mistakes’ when actual course correction is required. Whenever possible, I try to also frame that with a plan for what to do instead. If I don’t have the knowledge required to formulate that plan, I try to frame the feedback session as coming up with a plan *together*.

        A lot of high performers in the fields I’ve worked in (which generally draw people who are attracted to technical expertise, but who often need polishing on soft skills) are extremely focused on negative feedback and tend to dismiss general/summary/big-picture praise, so focusing on specific behaviors is essential to getting them to hear (i.e., internalize) the feedback.

        1. JulieBulie

          I have been through periods of depression as well as periods of nondepression, and in either situation, I find any kind of focused/specific feedback, either positive or negative, far more motivating and helpful than general/big-picture feedback (+ or -) simply because it is more actionable and because the specificity indicates that it is sincere.

          But I agree that if I’ve been feeling down or depressed recently, I’m more likely to shut down on negative feedback if it is not actionable or constructive because my temporarily low self-esteem cannot dismiss the criticism, yet I have no idea how I can improved. (If not depressed recently, I’m likely to ignore it.)

          I am in a technical field. I don’t know if this transfers to people in other kinds of work.

          1. Someone

            I agree with your notion that specific=sincere feedback. I also struggle with depression, and general praise was never helpful, because it is so easy and can be dismissed as someone being nice. The most uplifting feedback, in my opinion, is specific praise mixed with a small bit of specific criticism. It indicates that the person giving the feedback has standards and is able to identify mistakes/areas that need improvement – so the praise has actual value. Plus, that kind of feedback includes clear, actionable instructions on how to improve.

      1. Solo

        I came across this in Aaron T. Beck’s “Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders.” The citation was this paper from 1971, “Differential Effects of Success and Failure on Depressed and Nondepressed Patients”: http://journals.lww.com/jonmd/Abstract/1971/02000/Differential_Effects_of_Success_and_Failure_on.3.aspx

        Google Scholar’s list of articles citing the study might lead you to newer or more robust research: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=11003988099839246215&as_sdt=5,38&sciodt=0,38&hl=en

      2. Solo

        Comment with links is awaiting moderation, so here’s the raw names that you can google if you like:

        I came across this in Aaron T. Beck’s “Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders.” The citation was this paper from 1971, “Differential Effects of Success and Failure on Depressed and Nondepressed Patients”. Google Scholar’s list of articles citing the study might lead you to newer or more robust research.

  21. Former Hoosier

    In healthcare this is done through M&M conferences which can be pretty brutal. And I would argue don’t always have value. And of course root cause analysis also does this. However, when done correctly neither process serves to truly be cruel to the person(s) and/or systems that contributed to the error. I would hate this and would argue that it probably doesn’t have the intended effect of people correcting error or processes. It just makes people anxious about making future mistakes.

  22. Adam V

    Now that would be quite ironic:

    > …our monthly meetings where our boss starts off my addressing everyone’s mistakes from the past month

    > (although if your boss tends to get defensive, you’re probably better off talking to her privately rather than putting her on the spot in front of the group)

    1. frostipaws

      Seems only fair the boss should get a dose of her own medicine, and have y’all address the huge mistake she’s been repeating for months.

  23. Artemesia

    A ‘lessons learned’ debrief after any project which looks at things that might have been done differently can be very valuable. But this has to be created in an environment not of blame but of honing processes and avoiding the things that didn’t work out.

    For ‘mistakes’ by individuals, the manager should sit down individually with the person involved to go over the issue and provide feedback.

    Airing of grievances while timely in this season of festivus is likely to produce just the results noted by the OP.

  24. it_guy

    As long as it’s ONLY presented as “Here is the problem”, “Here is how we prevent it from ever happening again”, I don’t see a problem.

    Fortunately, I am blessed with a boss who has the philosophy of “You can make any mistake, ONCE”. I also came from several years as a federal contractor where my GrandBoss’s philosophy was “If you make a mistake I want to hear about it first, I don’t want to hear about it cold from somebody else in a meeting”, that we he could always reply: “Yes I know about it, and here is how we are going to prevent it”, that would prevent him from having to say “No, I don’t know what my people are doing.”

    1. Antilles

      As long as it’s ONLY presented as “Here is the problem”, “Here is how we prevent it from ever happening again”, I don’t see a problem.
      Agreed. The concept as a whole is not an inherent problem. In fact, I’d argue that if you’re *not* learning from past projects (both yours and others), your company is really missing out. Anybody can learn from his own mistakes, but a really wise man learns from the mistakes of others.
      That said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it…and from OP’s description, it seems pretty clear they’re Doing It Wrong. Focusing on irrelevant issues, turning it into a blame game, having co-workers toss others under the bus, and so on.

  25. Kalkin

    I worked at a newspaper where the excellent editor-in-chief sent out a daily email to employees noting the high points of that morning’s edition, as well as any mistakes or low points. He always credited the successes by name and kept the mistakes anonymous. Even if we all knew whose fault it was, that person wasn’t publicly shamed in any way; and the criticisms were also only of the constructive variety — they were mentioned so that the rest of us knew what to look out for or be careful of. (The exception was when the editor himself made a mistake — then he readily and self-deprecatingly owned up to it.)

    This worked particularly well at a newspaper, where there was an actual product to critique every day, and the focus could be on the objective quality of the product rather than on the producers. But I imagine it could work in a different kind of office, too (though maybe not on a daily basis). If your boss gets stuck on someone not throwing a plate away, though, the delivery method of the criticism probably isn’t the issue.

    1. LCL

      This is how our safety meetings are run. We do have to discuss mistakes and dangerous situations and what went wrong, but we have to be respectful of all of the employees. There is a lot that can go wrong at this job that is not caused by the workers but by the nature of the work. These meetings work best if the employee involved can talk about it, but they aren’t required to. When a mistake or bad situation happens we discuss it with the employee. For the meeting, I will write a brief description of the incident without names. Everyone at the meeting receives a copy of the agenda, and I tell the person if their issue will be discussed.

    2. TootsNYC

      I too am an editor supervising editors–and I do this same technique.

      I’m cheerful about owning up to my own mistakes.
      But if other people say, “Oh, that was mine,” I will say, “I don’t care who did it; I’m bringing it up because I found it a good reminder to me, and I assume that it will help others.”

      (I also talk about “management by projection”: If I bring up a mistake, or if I warn you not to miss something, it’s not because I think you are likely to make that mistake–it’s because *I* just realized I might, or because I have in the past. If I have made this mistake, I assume everyone else can; and if you have made a mistake, I assume that I can.)

      So far, people don’t hate me.

      1. Solo

        Your strategy seems way healthier than some of the ways we’ve seen “management by projection” on this site. ;)

  26. YarnOwl

    Okay I know this is not the most important part of OP’s letter, but the “frickin” thing made me laugh so hard. I live in Utah and hear a lot of these “alternate swears” and they always kill me!

  27. Kiwi

    OP, this sounds horrible. I agree about pushing back and trying to get your boss to stop the meetings.

    If your boss refuses to stop, Scrum retrospectives would probably work better. They’re collaborative and emphasize praise as well as discussion of what went wrong. There’s heaps of info about them online if you google for it.

  28. TootsNYC

    This is the kind of thing I sometimes think about doing, because we all handle the same tasks, and we can all make the same mistakes.
    And because I personally find myself going, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good reminder to me!” when someone else makes a mistake.

    But I’ve abandoned the attempts I have made.

    I once had a folder for “good catches,” as a training sort of thing, thinking people would say, “Oh, yeah, good reminder” or “I missed that earlier, and now I know why.”
    I gave everyone the big “I don’t care who missed it, no one is allowed to say ‘Oh, I missed that’ ” speech. But it didn’t really work, and I gave up.

    I do sometimes take catches (which are really mistakes) to people as a group to say, “here’s something that could help us all to know about,” but it’s SO VERY tricky!

    Even though I try, w/ words and tone of voice, etc., to be dismissive of the “blame somebody!” concept, and of the idea that we care who missed it, it’s just so very hard to do. So I don’t do it very often.
    And when I do, I usually take it to the person who actually missed it, and once we’ve discussed it, and I’ve had a chance to indicate that I’m not upset with them or they’re not in trouble, then I’ll say, “I think I’m going to alert everyone to this, so if you have ideas about how someone can avoid it, be sure to share that.”
    Then when I bring it up, I avoid naming anyone. (But as our OP points out, most people know. Or they certainly know if it was them.)

  29. Safely Retired

    This might be a bit easier to take if the boss always includes his own mistakes first. I rather doubt that ever happens!

  30. Rogue

    I worked for a small company like this…except our meetings were EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING! I hated that place with a passion.

  31. ballpitwitch

    Maybe I am crazy, but I work in the kind-off office where no one gets called on their BS ever, so this sounds kind of great. I would love for people to have to be accountable and own up to their incompetence publicly. As it stands, no one ever gets confronted or reprimanded in any way and the rest of us just have to figure out ways to get our jobs done around them.

  32. Klew

    You could also see if a few of your coworkers would be willing to bring it up with you at the next meeting (although if your boss tends to get defensive, ….

    In other words, “If your boss can dish it out but can’t take it…” which she probably can’t

  33. Julie Hall

    My boss does both. Team meetings (of 5 of us) in which people can be called on the carpet in front of everyone. Also individual meetings when we hear about everything we’ve done wrong since the last time she’s managed to capture one of us and drag us into her office, fingernails scratching grooves in the hallway floor. Some of it’s called for, and sometimes she veers off into la la land. She cannot be reasoned with, she has made that clear, it’s her way or the highway. She expects us to develop a thick skin as part of the experience of working for her. I love my job, except for her. I’ve been around the block in the working world and she’s actually not the worst, sometimes a thick skin helps.

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