Eliminating the blame game from the workplace

Blaming is something that comes naturally to us. We have been casting blame on other people and circumstances for our mistakes in an effort of self-preservation since the day dot. But we know it’s not healthy, we know it can be toxic and counterproductive to our own creativity and learnings. There has been a lot of talk about accountability and the need for us all to be more accountable in our personal and professional lives. And for good reason…

Research indicates that people who blame others lose status, perform worse and learn less, compared to those who take accountability for their mistakes and short comings. The same goes for organisations which have allowed a culture of blame to creep in and flourish. When blame is present in an organisational culture, creativity, learning, innovation and healthy risk-taking is hindered and avoided.

Is a culture of blame at play in your company?

Blame is insidious and contagious. It spreads easily and quickly. In a work environment, when people see others acting to protect their self-image, through blame, they quickly do the same. Here’s a few red flags to look out for that could indicate that blame could be infiltrating your company culture:

  • A general lack of accountability on the team. Are there frequently arguments, discussions or ambiguity about who is responsible for particular tasks? If an issue arises, is it tricky complicated to figure out what went wrong or pin point how it happened as everyone points the finger to someone or something else? Is the “kick-the-dog” type of blame present? This common form of blame in the workplace happens when the blame trickles down from the top; when one manager blames a subordinate, who blames their subordinate etc. If it’s difficult to identify the single point of accountability for a project or issue and no one willingly steps forward to own it, it’s possible that some of this is the result of a culture of blame.
  • A resistance to admitting mistakes or efforts to cover them up. Is there a healthy reaction amongst management when mistakes are made within your team? It’s inevitable that people make mistakes in their jobs, but it’s crucial that they are met with the right attitude, so people aren’t afraid to admit fault and feel supported when mistakes are made, rather than fear being reprimanded. If your staff tend to cover up and disguise their mistakes or shun accountability, chances are you need to address your policy regarding how to handle mistakes and challenges.
  • Resentment and blame towards the customers/ clients. When the end customer is frequently resented, bad-mouthed or blamed for things like increased workload and other internal repercussions of customer demands, it is most definitely an indication that a culture of blame has crept in. This is especially toxic as the overall purpose of the company is being attacked and resented by the very people who should be working towards it. 
  • A culture where gossiping is rife. Gossip is like fuel to the fire when it comes to cultivating blame. It is toxic to the overall integrity of the team and the individuals within the team and creates an environment where finger pointing and fault finding is the acceptable. 

So, what can we as managers do to stamp out blame in the workplace once and for all?

The most important step to eliminating blame within your team, is to try to cultivate a nurturing and supportive work environment where individuals feel safe and secure. When people feel psychologically safe, they are less likely to feel the need to protect themselves and cover up their mistakes. Here are 5 ways to achieve this:

  1. Own up to your own mistakes and short-comings. Set the right example. By openly and confidently admitting to your own mistakes, others will feel more secure that they too can make mistakes and take accountability. If you feel secure in yourself and accepting of the fact that you will make mistakes, you are less likely to strike out at others when they make mistakes, again helping your team feel safe and secure.
  2. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Blame often starts from the top and trickles down. When mistakes occur, resist the temptation to point the finger and instead simply deal with the issue at hand without assigning blame to individuals. Others will follow by example.
  3. Focus on constructive feedback, rather than blame. In situations where people’s mistakes have a significant negative impact and really do need to be addressed, do it when you are calm and do it in a way that does not involve direct blaming, belittling or publicly humiliating them. Encourage an open one-on-one conversation where the goal is to both learn from the mistake (or rather the issue that resulted from the behaviour), acknowledge feedback and learnings and set the objective to do better next time.
  4. Create a culture of learning and experimentation. Creating a culture where learning is the focus, rather than the avoidance of mistakes, is essential to make people feel secure in making mistakes, admitting them, talking about them and learning from them.
  5. Encourage and rewards good mistakes. Sometimes it is in the making of mistakes that we gain valuable insights that lead to greater creativity and innovation. By cultivating an environment where risk taking is encouraged and mistakes are rewarded when they expose innovative insights, is an excellent way for a company to stay progressive, creative and relevant.

Mistakes are inevitable. Developing a strong culture of transparency and accountability will make your team feel safe and secure and accepting of their own mistakes and the insights they can gain from them. Mistakes are valuable to us in the workplace and allow us to learn and do things better. Embrace them. We all need to do our best to take accountability of our mistakes and encourage others to do the same.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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