A New Look at Errors: On errors, error prevention, and error management in organizations

Publikation: Beiträge in SammelwerkenKapitelbegutachtet


Whenever humans are involved in producing outcomes, errors will be inevitable (Reason, 1990). The chapters in this volume illustrate that there are many different ways that errors can influence and be influenced by organizations. Our goal for this volume was for each of the chapters to offer a new perspective on errors given the domain about which the authors were writing. Specifically, we wanted each of the authors to move away from the traditional view of errors as nuisances that need to be eliminated to a more balanced view recognizing that errors can have both negative and positive effects, and that errors are both more important and more complex to deal with than suggested in the past. This is the basic theme of Chapter 1 of this volume, in which we argue that errors are ubiquitous; therefore, it is unlikely to eliminate them completely. Given this, we need to consider in much more depth how to manage effectively the errors that continue to occur despite efforts to prevent them. One key distinction that we make is between errors and violations for which the differentiating factor is the intentionality of the actor. Errors are unintentional, whereas violations are intentional acts. It is important to recognize that, although violating behaviors are intended, any significant negative consequences that result are not intended or necessarily foreseen and, thus, often the result of an error. Violating the highway speed limit to ensure that one arrives at the airport in time to catch a flight is an intended act. The major accident that occurs due to excessive speed is both unintended and, in most cases, viewed as unlikely when the behavior (speeding) is undertaken. Finally, we describe a taxonomy of errors that has a number of different potential uses in future error research. In Chapter 2, Keith argues cogently that an error management approach to training allows participants to better respond to the emotional impact of errors, and it also allows participants to maximize learning. Within the training context, an error management approach adopts the view that errors cannot be completely avoided in the training process, and that a pure error prevention approach leads to less learning, at least under the more realistic situation of having to transfer the training to new tasks on the job. Another area in which errors can play a central-and sometimes positive serendipitous-role is the realm of creativity and innovation. Frequently, great inventions come about because of accidental discoveries resulting from errors. In Chapter 3, Hammond and Farr describe this process as well as how errors can happen during the innovation process. Another alternative view of errors is provided by Mousavi and Gigerenzer in Chapter 4. Specifically, they describe how the traditional, experimental research documenting the various “cognitive biases” may itself be biased by not taking into account practical goals of human judgment (ecological validity). They forward the idea of ecological rationality as the matching of decision-making strategies to the structure of information in the environment. This perspective is then applied to efforts to “debias” decision-making efforts with specific application to the interpretation of medical statistics. Bell and Kozlowski (Chapter 5) describe how errors in teams develop, the consequences they may have, and how they should be managed. One important distinction that Bell and Kozlowski make is between individual errors occurring within the team and team-level errors. Again, the presupposition is that errors-emerging from either individuals within the team or at the team level-are a foregone conclusion. In light of this perspective, Bell and Kozlowski spend significant time discussing the error management process within teams as well as future research needs. In Chapter 6, Weaver, Bedwell, and Salas describe how team training can increase reliability and improve error management. They review a number of different team training techniques and describe how they link to improving team reliability. They conclude with a series of key theoretical and practical things to consider when designing a team training initiative. MacPhail and Edmondson (Chapter 7) suggest that the work context is a key determinant in identifying how best to learn from errors. Given that errors are inevitable, it is critically important that individuals, units, and organizations effectively learn from these errors. This not only feeds into future error prevention efforts but also can lead to the development of improved error management systems. Another key component to learning from errors is the development of a culture signaling psychological safety. Chapter 8 shifts our focus to the top floor of the organization. In this chapter, Shimizu and Hitt discuss errors made at the strategic level. These errors are particularly difficult to identify because of the inherent uncertainty in the broader context of the decision. This context often provides unclear signals, long time lags, and no clear benchmarks against which to judge the outcome of the decision. Shimizu and Hitt also consider a number of contributing factors to top management team errors, such as cognitive limitations and biases and coordination problems in the implementation process. Hollnagel (Chapter 9) describes three ages of safety-the age of technology, human factors, and safety management-and how each relates to the attribution of failure and, relatedly, the way in which each age dealt with these failures. The last age, the age of safety management, is characterized by the concept of the resilient organization, which becomes increasingly necessary as systems become more complex and less tractable. Ramanujam and Goodman (Chapter 10) take up the issue of the relationship between organizational errors and adverse consequences to the organization. One primary focus is on the notion of latent errors or organizational deviations from rules and operating procedures that can potentially generate adverse outcomes when they interact with trigger events. They further describe, from a systems viewpoint, the antecedents of organizational feedback processes for error correction and error amplification. Two cases-one from a bank, the other from a hospital-are used to illustrate how latent errors and triggering events can result in significant negative consequences. Finally, in Chapter 11 Gelfand, Frese, and Salmon examine the cross-cultural implications for both error prevention and error management. A number of cross-cultural dimensions (e.g., uncertainty avoidance, humane orientation, individualism, tightness-looseness) are discussed and how they might have an impact on error prevention, error detection, and error management. A number of cultural paradoxes that result from such a conceptualization are discussed.
TitelErrors in Organizations
HerausgeberDavid A. Hofmann, Michael Frese
Anzahl der Seiten10
ErscheinungsortNew York
VerlagRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group (GB)
ISBN (Print)978-0-8058-6291-1
ISBN (elektronisch)978-0-203-81782-7
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 21.07.2011