“Error” is a four-letter word in Operations. Managers, quality assurance teams, and Six Sigma experts focus enormous attention towards rooting out and reducing errors, but too much focus on this can actually be detrimental to firms.

By over-emphasizing the need for error-free output, managers can unknowingly create a closed culture that encourages staff to keep quiet about widespread errors and best practice solutions. This results in ad hoc and uncoordinated solutions to errors, missed opportunities for others to learn, and repeat mistakes.

Errors actually present big opportunities for gain – as long as Operations can take note and capitalize on them. A terrific example of this is a case from an organization we’ve profiled that hosts “Case Clinics” for employees to present and share commonly occurring errors.

There are a few key things which make Case Clinics so successful:

1) They foster a blame-free environment where employees are encouraged to share their solutions to mistakes they’ve encountered in the past. This institution asks an employee who is widely recognized as a good performer to present and openly discuss an error he or she has made and propose potential solutions to prevent others from making the same mistake.

2) They facilitate discussion around common challenges and underlying root causes. Case clinics give all employees involved in a process the opportunity to brainstorm: What may be faulty in this process? Are there tools, systems, or procedures that are difficult or confusing? How could the team streamline the process?

3) They challenge line staff employees to be problem solvers and take ownership. Instead of delegating quality assurance management to unit leaders, case clinics provide line staff with a challenge to take charge and lead initiatives to improve the team’s performance.