In business we often come across cultures where blame is accepted or is even the norm. We like to mention one of our favourite terms – ‘blame-storming’. This is the process of getting in a room after a failure and deciding whose fault it was….
Once we figure out who’s at fault, we then try to find out what is wrong with the supposed offenders. Only when we discover what is wrong with them do we feel we have grasped the problem. Clearly, they are the problem, and changing or getting rid of them (or simply being angry at them) is the solution.
But blame is an interesting concept and often confused with accountability. We find leaders that we work with conceptually accept that people make mistakes and mistakes are a learning opportunity but they remain keen to find out who made the mistake, whose fault it was and determining what the consequences should be for the team or individual. It is easy to apportion blame.
However, much like “the dog ate my homework” didn’t work with your grade 10 schoolteacher, you cannot blame others in the workplace for not getting the result that you may have wanted. Making excuses is just another form of apportioning blame.
Blaming provides an early and artificial solution to a complex problem. It provides a simplistic view of a complex reality: “I know what the problem is, and you’re it”. Blame thus makes any post-mortem difficult and reduces the chances of getting to the real root of a problem. Blame also generates fear and destroys trust.
To be accountable is “to be counted on or reckoned on.” To blame is “to find fault with, to censure, revile, reproach.” Accountability emphasizes keeping agreements and performing jobs in a respectful atmosphere; blaming is an emotional process that discredits the blamed.
In many organizations, people will pass blame because they are petrified of being put to the sword. Organizations work on consequences. So, if people have a hatchet hanging over their heads, they’ll move that hatchet to the next desk or department. Marketing blames the technical department, which blames supply chain which blames the sales team and so on. There’s nothing rational about it. It’s an irrational way of deflecting responsibility or accountability and it means no one is really performing,
So, people are afraid to make mistakes in case of criticism or firing and that fear obviously inspires people to deflect blame. Organizations can prevent this kind of self-protective behaviour through a “no-blame-no-fault” way of operating. In this scenario, an organization does not fault anyone when things go wrong but rather looks for what went wrong and figures out a way of fixing it and importantly making sure it doesn’t happen again becoming a true learning organization.
Where there is blame, there is no learning. Where there is blame, open minds close, inquiry tends to cease, and the desire to understand the whole system diminishes.
Developing a no blame environment and culture is challenging; it takes courage and the willingness to learn new ways of thinking and acting. So why is moving from blame? Because blaming achieves little. It doesn’t serve the organization’s long-term needs and can actually prevent it from functioning effectively. On the other hand, developing a learning organization mindset will be an important element in maintaining your organization’s long-term health.