Some organizations react to any setback by assessing blame. This blame laying is a true culture killer, an early stage along the way to producing a true culture of fear. The unspoken rule in blaming cultures seems to be:

Shit doesn’t just happen; it is somebody’s fault.

When the laying blame culture killer is at work, it is not a matter of what went wrong, but who caused it. It is not possible to have a mishap without a culprit. A blaming culture is unpleasant to work in, but that’s not the only reason to avoid it.  A far more serious reason is that when blame is automatically assessed, the natural tendency for self-critical appraisal is thwarted.  And self-critical appraisal is perhaps our most powerful way of learning.

When a healthy culture team has failed in some way or other, someone is sure to start the conversation about why it happened with a line like, “Okay, where did we go wrong?”  When you hear that, you can bet that learning is about to happen.  If the answers begin to sound familiar, then a second question is warranted: “Why didn’t we learn from the last time this happened?”

Missing a goal might be a catastrophe, but it should never feel like a disgrace.  The only disgrace would be not to learn from it.

The opposite of blame is trust. For some insight on the ever-illusive matter of trust, take a look at Tom DeMarco’s video on the subject: Giving and Gaining Trust.

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