I remember working as a junior doctor in an ED department in a rough and tough area of East Glasgow. The roster was arduous, 60 hrs a week, 1 in 4 nightshifts. On our first day, the consultant sat us down and talked to us about the job. He told us that in seeing 40-50 patients a shift we would be making so many decisions that we were bound to make mistakes (and we did), but as long as he was in charge, and we were not acting maliciously, he would back us up to the hilt in the case of any complaints (and he did). He drummed into us the importance of working as a team and implicitly trusting one another’s work. I never once heard him ask “Who did that?” His whole philosophy relaxed us, helped us to work as a team, and made a tough job that bit easier..
In the laboratory setting we also have to make a lot of decisions every day, and of course mistakes will be made. When they are made it is important to first of all ask “How can we stop this happening again”, before even considering “Who?”.
Any individual feedback on mistakes should always primarily focus on the cause of the error, not the error itself.
There will always be the occasional case, ie that involving very serious errors or non-conformities where the “Who?” question needs to be addressed formally, but in the majority of cases, the act of fixing the system makes the “Who” question of academic nature only.
I always aspire to act like my old ED consultant (sadly no longer with us), and try to resist that primeval/gut instinct to ask “Who” when an error is reported to me. I don’t always manage it but I am improving slowly as I get older….