When a colleague makes a mistake, what do I do? Elaine Varelas discusses options

When a colleague makes a mistake, navigating how to proceed can be delicate. If additional instruction or training might help them, then you may be able to provide that. Encouraging them to find out how to solve current or prevent future mistakes is ideal – as is encouraging them to come forward with what they've learned. Elaine Varelas explores ways to approach your options.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: A colleague made a mistake that was caught by someone in another office and it came back to me. It was a one-time error and I fixed it but, if repeated, the same mistake could cause major problems. Should I take something like that to our manager since it could have backfired on us, or is it appropriate to offer a bit of training directly to my colleague even though we’re peers? Does our manager even need to know? 

A: Following the travel of communication regarding mistakes and corrections reveals a lot about an organization’s culture. Someone in another office noticed a mistake that your colleague made, but they brought it to you rather than the person who actually made the error. Since this person is your peer, why might that have happened? Is this colleague new? Does she make mistakes frequently, or is there some other relationship challenge at play? Whenever anyone makes a mistake that could be significant to the organization, regardless of their level, additional training and a system of checks becomes imperative.

Advertisement

Mistakes are made at any type of organization at every level. Looking at how each organization works to systematically prevent and correct errors – and whether or not they support workers who are often trying to do a good job – is how you find out whether this is the kind of company you want as your employer.

Do go directly your colleague and let them know what happened and how you became involved. Hopefully you aren’t the type to gloat that someone else came to you to fix the situation. Discuss the fact that it is fixed, and help identify how this happened and how to prevent this in the future. Then encourage your colleague to speak with your manager directly. If you have already worked with her on this, she will be able come forward armed with the fact that she’s learned more about how to prevent repeating this mistake, and that she appreciates your support and how you rectified the situation.

If you are uncomfortable working directly with your colleague and have a supportive manager who responds to situations like these with encouragement and understanding, then they may recognize this kind of mistake as an opportunity for additional training and development. In that case, he or she should be made aware of the potential risk to the organization created by your colleague’s error. They may even appreciate knowing that you have worked with a colleague to correct this problem.

Advertisement

In general, coming forward with your own mistakes is a good habit to get into. If and when you need to do so, prepare yourself with suggestions to prevent future mistakes or ways to fix current mistakes, and if you’ve already taken steps to correct it, you can share that as well. It takes courage and typically garners great respect from colleagues and managers when you come forward. You may find that managers with high expectations are often the most understanding when it comes to mistakes – they will want to look for a solution to minimize the opportunity to make mistakes rather than berating the person who made it.