In one of the many joke e-mails that I receive daily was one that recently caught my eye regarding new words that are an essential part of the office vocabulary in 2004. The particular word that I noticed was blamestorming defined assitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.
Blame is toxic to organisations. When blame is around punishment surely follows. To avoid any form of punishment we deflect blame form ourselves or allocate it to others. We take action to protect and insulate ourselves from blame by avoiding involvement, withholding contributions or putting isolationist walls around our departments. We try to be Teflon person so nothing sticks to us.
Blame cultures are very insidious and commonplace. This culture prevents people learning from mistakes and inevitably such mistakes are repeated many times by organisations with this culture. One entrepreneur I know describes his life as a rich tapestry of mistakes. He is extremely successful by recognizing, putting right and most importantly learning from his errors. If a person exists who has never made a mistake or an error of judgment then flying pigs must also exist.
Learning cultures seek causes so that they can learn whereas blame cultures look for causes so that they can punish. In your organisation you can identify the culture by listening to language and noticing how failures are acknowledged and understood. In blame cultures people take the blame, take the hit or are the fall guy. Post mortems are used to describe project reviews in blame cultures rather than evaluations in a learning culture.
It is difficult to acknowledge failure in blame cultures, as that will precede punishment. So the result is that errors are continually repeated and failing projects live on. Learning cultures are able to acknowledge mistakes earlier as they are perceived as opportunities to evaluate and learn. Projects that should be cancelled or even restarted are and the organisation is able to change and adapt more quickly. The blame culture usually results in blame being attributed to one person or department whereas in reality the answer is more complex and learning organisations are able to comprehend the network of causes.
Those people working in blame cultures often blame the Chief Executive or the senior managers for their problems. Changing culture does require change at the top; in fact everyone has to change. But the change can start anywhere.
It can start with you.
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