The Mystery of the Mistakenly Aligned Throat Coat Tea Bags, Solved!


I'm more of a coffee drinker than a tea drinker. But unlike Ted Lasso, I don't dismissively think it's going to taste like “hot brown water.”

Not all tea is brown, of course. I really enjoy green tea and look forward to another matcha tea experience in Japan someday.

Especially during winter months, I drink a particular tea that's popular with public speakers: “Traditional Medicinals Organic Throat Coat Seasonal Tea.” It's an herbal tea (and while on Amazon looking at it, maybe also check out the Kindle pre-order for my upcoming book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation.

More than once, across a few months, I opened a package (which had been ordered and delivered through Amazon) and found a surprise (or maybe a mistake!).


Opened (January and March):

What's Going On?

I wondered, “What's going on??” Clearly,c the box is designed to be a dispenser and the tea bags should be horizontal, not vertical, so they can be pulled out easily one-by-one.

The bags certainly fit horizontally, as you can see here after I did some manipulation:

What's the Cause?

So, what's the cause of the terribly-aligned tea bags?

One, was it a bad design choice? Probably not, that seems unlikely. A company clever enough to have a box that tears open at the bottom to be a dispenser would be clever enough to stack the bags in the box on top of each other horizontally).

Two, was this a manufacturing defect? Did something get misaligned at the factory so that the box or the bags were somehow misaligned?

I posted about this on LinkedIn, not fully expecting to get an answer… but I eventually did!

My friend (and Lean Six Sigma job seeker) Chad Walters, commented that he has had similar experiences with the same tea.

Others speculated that it was a packaging operations defect. My friend (and “favorite mistake” maker) Ellen Patnaude said, “I've had this same experience with all flavors of this same brand of tea.”

Some people just work around the issue by tearing the box open at the top, regardless of the intent of the design.

Chad thought to tag the maker of the tea on LinkedIn, to get their input (or at least to register the complaint, which they've surely heard about). After at least one person had speculated that it was “a shipping shift,” that turned out to be the answer, per Traditional Medicinals, Inc.:

“Hi Mark! We appreciate you sharing your feedback and we'll share your experience with our team. During transit, the tea bags do move around, which results in them occasionally shifting to a vertical position, needing to then be re-aligned to use the front perforated dispense. This seems to happen with some of our tea blends that are not as dense as others. Our team is evaluating this matter and working to provide the best solution. Thanks again for your helpful feedback.”

So it's a shift — and it's more likely to happen with some teas that are less dense. Fascinating!

It seems like a minor design flaw in that they didn't consider (or didn't test) what would happen to the tea bags and the box with transit through the supply chain.

It's not the worst mistake in the world, but it's a small one that's consistently affecting (if not annoying) customers). I'll be curious to see how they address it over time. I'll keep buying (and drinking) the tea for sure!

As I share in my upcoming book, one dictionary definition of “mistake” is:

“an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, assumptions, etc.”

As I write, we often discover a mistake through a gap between the expected outcomes (the bags arrive to the customer still in the correct orientation) and actual outcomes (the bags have shifted and fully rotated 90 degrees).

The company and its team clearly expected that this design would work. But now they have evidence that it does not. It's a mistake. Could this have been prevented through better packaging testing? Maybe. But what matters now is learning and improving.

I appreciate that the company didn't deny that there's a problem and that they didn't blame the user! They weren't dismissive — they were kind and helpful. We could follow their lead with mistakes in our workplaces!

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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