Here are two simple facts of life:

1. People make mistakes
2. Things go wrong

If you manage a team and you don't think they're making mistakes and you don't think anything is going wrong, you're deluding yourself. They're just not telling you.

In any significant job, project or task, things are going to go wrong, problems are going to arise. They may be things which could have been anticipated or they may be completely out of the blue, unexpected snags which no-one could have foreseen.

Of course, you hope to minimise these things, but they will happen.

In any workplace, people will make mistakes. They're human. We all do it. We try to avoid it, of course, and we hope our mistakes won't be disastrous whoppers when they happen but, again, they're going to happen. That's life.

The question is - when these things happen, does the manager or leader of the team know about it? Or do people do their best to cover it up?

In many organisations, managers don't want to hear bad news. They don't want people to tell them about problems, either ones they anticipate or ones which have actually arisen.

So, when these managers outline a project and ask for opinions, they don't really want anyone to say, " I can see a few problems with that. "

When they ask for a status report on a piece of work, they don't want to hear a list of the things which are going wrong.

They communicate this in a variety of ways. Some do it by labelling people who predict problems as " negative ". They may try to dress it up as " positive thinking " or they may say things like, " don't bring me problems, bring me solutions ".

While there may be some merit in that, in terms of encouraging people to work out how to tackle problems and come up with answers, it often just covers an attitude which really says, " don't tell me any bad news ".

Similarly, if some managers do find out about problems, their first response is to look for someone to blame. If there's a problem, it must be someone's fault ( and someone else's, not theirs ). The same goes for mistakes - mistakes are to be punished to discourage others from making them.

What is the result of all this?

People hide problems and mistakes. They don't pass on bad news, they bury it. They cover up mistakes and tell the manager only what he or she wants to hear. They gloss over issues until they're too big to be hidden, by which time they're harder to sort out.

Managers and business leaders don't get accurate information on which to base decisions because people don't tell them the truth.

What should managers do instead?

• encourage, in fact demand, honesty - and show they mean it by praising people who tell them the truth, however ugly it may be

• when they outline a project or a task, set a challenge to people to see how many potential problems they can foresee - that way, everything should be planned for and fewer surprises are likely

• when they ask for status or progress reports, ask for a clear list of everything which has gone, or could go, wrong and what has been done to handle any such problems if and when they arise

• thank people for warning of problems and for admitting mistakes

• don't develop a blame culture - when things go wrong, focus on how to put them right and how to prevent the same thing happening again rather than on whose fault it was

• encourage people to report bad news immediately

If you lead a team, and you give people a clear signal that you don't want to hear bad news, guess what? You won't hear any. But that doesn't mean bad things aren't happening - it just means they aren't telling you!

Author's Bio: 

Alan Matthews is a trainer, coach and speaker who helps people to be successful managers and leaders - people who can bring out the best in themselves and those around them. For more articles and a free copy of The Book Of 100 Management Tips, visit