Stop the Blame Game, will you…


In the recent past I had to sit through a problem solving meeting.  To be honest, I was not keen on it as I could anticipate what would happen.  The meeting felt like a never ending saga without any resolution in sight.  No sooner the problem was put forth, one of the most common things [unfortunately] happened…everyone involved went on defensive and tried to justify that they did what they could do best but it was the other person who did not do the job as planned.  The other person, seeing that all eyes were on him, said the earlier group of people did not provide him enough information and time to finish his job.  This went on for over 2 hours, which was 1 hour over the scheduled time and the meeting had to be ended as there were other things demanding attention and presence.  The problem was not even discussed let alone arriving at the solution.

The meeting, according to me, was a sheer waste of time and energy.  What went wrong?  Well, no sooner the problem was put on the table, various stakeholders involved started to blame someone or the other for a failed job.  They were only focused on ensuring they are not blamed for the debacle.  No one was focused on even looking at the problem objectively and find ways to solve it.  The moderator of the meeting tried to add some focus but in the midst of so much of reactivity the whole purpose of the meeting was side stepped and it turned to a dirty blame game.

Now these were all qualified, experienced people who were sitting there.  But in the spirit of defending themselves, they blamed others for the problem or failure.  They clearly failed to understand and realise that blame game never works.  They ignored a basic element that those who indulge in blame game or those who blame someone else for a failure always fail to realize an opportunity to learn, improve and perform; but more importantly demonstrate principles, culture of accountability.

What is worse is that if one person starts to blame the other, the other will inadvertently blame the third….and the cycle continues.  Blaming is contagious, it is viral.

It wouldn’t be surprising that those teams or organizations where a culture of blaming prevails always fail to be creative, learn from the past and improve, are never innovative and productive risk takers.  In other words, they are the laggards in their stream of business.  By merely being exposed to someone attributing blame for a failure to someone is enough have people turn around and blame others for completely unrelated failures.  Blame game is parasitic in nature, it robs you of a great opportunity to learn from a failure and evolve.

I often asked myself, why someone would blame others for a failure; weren’t they all in it as a team.  But I feel that if the focus is to protect one’s self-image then it is easier for people to be on defensive and the moment they are on defensive, they start to find someone whom they can attribute the burden of failure to.

This can happen in a team or a department or at an organizational level; where the impact grows manifold in the respective order.

It is a lot to do with what culture you have established in your team or the organization.  A culture of psychological security is thus one of the most important things a leader or a manager needs to focus on, it prevents people from worrying about their self-image there by not being defensive and restricting the tendency to blame.

I personally would like to suggest we never use the term blame, instead replace it with ‘accountable’…it has an inherent sense of ownership and association with the task assigned that if it fails, the one would own the accountability of its failure and not pass the buck.

So how do we build this culture to stop blaming and create a sense of security and accountability amongst our people?

Here are a few thoughts I have:

[1]  Set clear expectations and accountability for tasks and define single owners for these tasks.

[2]  Put a blanket ban on fault finding or the blame game.

[3]  Call it a collective failure and DO NOT ALLOW anyone to blame others for a failure.

[4]  Encourage people to own up failures, make it clear and demonstrate that it not only gains them respect from their peers and seniors but also gives them loyalty of their team members.  This sets the tone for security amongst the team.

[5]  It is important to hold people accountable, but do so objectively and with an aim to help them evolve from the failure.  Make sure to emphasize that the goal is to learn from mistakes, not to humiliate those who make them.

[6]  Creating a culture where learning rather than avoiding mistakes is the top priority.  Call a mistake or failure an opportunity to learn and evolve, this will help to ensure that people feel free talk about and learn from their errors.

[7]  Set the right example, reward people those who have made mistakes and have evolved learning from it.

[8]  Share examples of how blame game ruined the opportunity to do well and how someone took the accountability of failure and led a turnaround… share success stories.

What do you think?  How do you propose to stop the blame game in your team or organization?

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership, People Management, Team Building

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