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Put the Pen Down and Trust Your Team

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In one of my last posts, "How Much Proofreading Is Too Much?" I wrote about another hypothetical situation involving Sebastian and his habit of correcting everything written.

As a number of commentators correctly suggested, the appropriate quality for the documentation depends on its intended use. Certainly information sent outside the organization should be as close to perfect as possible and "two sets of eyes are better than one."

This wasn't the core issue, though. Sebastian is proofreading and correcting minutes, notes and other internal, short-lived documents to the same high standard.

The purpose of technical documentation within a project is to get ideas across in a way the concerned audience can understand. Sebastian's team may need training and support to create effective documentation, but striving toward perfection doesn't add value.

The key to solving this problem is helping Sebastian understand that continually criticizing people for not achieving perfection can be extremely debilitating and will reduce his team's effectiveness. This is not his intention, but is the perception of people who receive Sebastian's heavily corrected documents.

The ideal solution is to get Sebastian to understand how detrimental his behavior is. Achieving this may require people who Sebastian sees as experts and advisers to coach him to improve his team-management skills.

Alternatively, effectively "advising upwards" by focusing on Sebastian's real interests, such as product delivery, may be a solution. Neither of these options, however, is likely to provide a quick solution. Changing habitual behaviors can take years and requires the person making the change to want to change.

A more practical alternative may be to reframe the problem. Written communication is only one way of conveying information. Alternative approaches may include scheduling brief discussions to resolve issues, using web portals to make documents shared resources where everyone contributes or changing the media to something where grammatical structures are less important.

Unfortunately there are no easy answers to this problem. For those on the receiving end of Sebastian's corrections, recognize that a criticism of a document you have written is not a criticism of you and use the opportunity to improve. (You should see what the editors do to our posts...LOL)


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I'd hate to be on Sebastian's team. I can't bear admin at the expense of getting stuff done.

It can be pretty difficult at times to balance the need for maintaining internal standards and the need to use time most effectively in delivering planned outputs.

Sebastian certainly needs to be enlightened as to the effect of his criticisms on the team (an ultimately productivity / delivery) but it also seems like he has too much resource - i.e. he has sufficient capacity to squander it on his pet issue.

Reassigning (even part-time or temporarily) a team member may also help to get priorities clear in Sebastian's head.

Scott Henderson
Programme Manager, Scotland

In my experience, what is verbalized or written is a reflection of the team. It is a reflection of the project quality. Like Manoj says, an attitude toward mediocrity can easily become a team performance issue. Of course, if everything requires re-work, then additional coaching or training might be required to improve that skill.

I do agree that the amount of proofreading should be dependent on the audience it is catering to. But on second thought, if we allow mediocrity to get in, then there is every possibility that it will soon overtake our life. So make a call judiciously.

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