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Do This One Thing

Amy Edmondson came across a surprising discovery when researching the relationship between teamwork and error rates in hospital settings. She expected to find that teams characterized by teamwork and collaboration made fewer errors. What she found instead was that the high performing teams in her study appeared to experience more errors compared to teams that struggled with teamwork.

The results were so counter-intuitive Edmondson decided to do further research. What she discovered as she dug deeper revealed the single most important insight into building high performing teams: high performing teams own their mistakes. It turns out the high performing medical teams in her study didn’t make more mistakes; they were more likely to admit their mistakes, which meant they reported more mistakes. As a result, they were better problem solvers and more likely to learn from their mistakes.

High performing teams are quick to own their mistakes and focus on solutions. Dysfunctional teams are quick to blame, make excuses and deflect when they make mistakes.

This is the principle of 100% Responsibility: I am 100% Responsible for how I choose to respond to everyone and everything in my life. It is foundational to building a performing team and a key ingredient for individual success and happiness. It is also key to healthy, high trust relationships at both work and in our personal lives.

How do you cultivate 100% Responsibility?

In her book The Fearless Organization, Edmondson refers to it as a “psychological safety” or “felt permission for candor.” High performing teams are characterized by high trust, and members feel safe to speak up and admit mistakes without fear of punishment. They are also more likely to be actively engaged and take healthy risk.

When we blame others and make excuses, we give our power away and convince ourselves we are helpless. Nothing erodes self-trust like blaming others for our misfortunes.

Building high trust on a team requires being intentional to cultivate behaviors that foster high trust. Trust will also rise, or fall, based on the questions we ask and how we handle failure. Leaders who focus on learning through failure by asking questions like, “What did you learn from this?” are more likely to have team members who feel permission for candor. On the other hand, leaders who focus on fault-finding and punishment foster an environment where people are more likely to cover up mistakes and avoid risk-taking.

Self-trust is cultivated in the same way. One of the most powerful questions an individual can ask themself is, “What am I going to do about it?” The moment an individual refuses to waste emotional energy making excuses or blaming others for their circumstances is the moment they become unstuck. When you own the problem, it frees you to focus on problem solving and learning. Self-trust grows. It is an empowering way to live and the single most important characteristic for personal growth and achievement.


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