When something goes wrong, it’s not “his fault”, it’s “our fault”.

Unless we’re in the unenviable position of hiring or firing team members, then we don’t have to worry about individual team performance. When I asked how many people at the recent software craftsmanship gathering were in this position, less than 10% of the people there put their hands up. Chances are it isn’t our job to worry about any individual’s performance except our own.

The team is the atomic unit of success or failure. When individuals screwed up at Eden, I used to say that I wasn’t interested in whether they’d made a mistake, as mistakes are guaranteed to happen. What I’m more interested in is what caused the mistake to occur, and that they used the experience to improve the process or their own practice.

Your team or business is perfectly designed to achieve the result you are currently getting. I’ve heard of people being fired on the spot for making mistakes. What a waste of all the learning they’ve just experienced.

So next time Bob breaks the build (again), let’s have a look at why. Is it because he’s new to the team and no-one has told him how important a passing build is? Is it because the clients put him under a lot of pressure and he didn’t feel that he had time to run the tests? If it’s because he’s forgetful and careless, how do we mitigate for that weakness? For example, would encouraging Bob to pair program help?

Even if it does appear to come down to an individual issue, there are still process improvements to consider. Are we hiring slowly enough? Are we checking properly for a culture fit? Are we involving the team enough in pre-hire decisions?

Each of these questions facilitates a team culture change: Bob didn’t screw up, the team screwed up by not having quite the right culture or process, and the team will fix it.

Clearly there are some cases where individuals need to be dealt with personally by those responsible, but it’s less often than we think and normally not our problem. Let’s not make it our problem and further destabilise our teams through a damaging witch hunt.