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It’s not my fault; breaking the blame culture

Often blame is driven by fear; and worse still, some leaders who lead in this way may not even realise they are creating a culture of blame.

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We’ve all been in a conversation which includes the words, ‘it’s not my fault’, or perhaps even naming and shaming someone who you believe to be responsible for the failure of the task. In fact, this type of behaviour is typical of many organisations; sometimes in small pockets, and in others it is widespread. So why is this? Surely it makes for a better working environment and stronger relationships if instead of blame; there is a culture of accountability?

Often blame is driven by fear; and worse still, some leaders who lead in this way may not even realise they are doing it. Thus, people are afraid to admit to their own mistakes and only present good news, instead of all news. This approach leads to people feeling uncomfortable about being honest if something has gone wrong, regardless of where the root cause lies.

Even though behaviours manifest through people, sometimes it begins with a system or process.

What happens in blame cultures?

Aside from the fear of speaking up when something hasn’t gone to plan, having a blame culture prevents so much great work from happening. Blame inhibits ideas and innovation; people tend not to take risks where they know they could have negative consequences. They live in excuses and denial, rather than the positive environment of ownership and are not prepared to put their head above the parapet for fear of reprisal.

Blame takes up time and energy, both physical and emotional. This leads to lack of motivation, poor morale, and teams in which people don’t have each other’s backs. This doesn’t mean that the team are under performing in their individual roles, however, they are missing out the chance to be brilliant.

What is an accountability culture?

From my own experience, it’s a world where people feel safe to admit mistakes and learn from them, where people are prepared to take calculated risks and learn from the outcome, an environment where people can be honest and constructive, can support and challenge each other positively.

So how can we move from a negative blame culture towards a positive culture of ownership and accountability?

This is the start of a journey.

Firstly, you need to create some definitions. Culture can be defined as ‘the way we do things around here’, so essentially you are aiming to create a new and improved way of working and being. Everyone involved needs to have a shared understanding of where things are currently at and what the future state is intended to be.

The best way to do this is to involve people in your thinking and vision and empower them to help you. It may sound obvious, but you can only change the culture by doing things differently and you can be doing things differently for some time before the changes become embedded and self-sustaining, so people need to be onboard with that concept.

If you a going to truly embrace the opportunity to change, then it starts with being honest and taking a benchmark status, so that you can measure progress and success. You need to connect with the right people (and these may be people either in your own teams or outside) and let go of the behaviours which have held you back (or prevented you making changes).

Obviously, there is a need for this to be role-modelled throughout any organisation if true culture change is possible, but there are many ways that this can be developed from within individual teams, as it is not always and organisational issue.

People need to choose to behave like adults and have grown up dialogue. By that I mean, be fully responsible for their own actions, own their situations and feelings and lose excuses. This might require some skills training, which in many ways allows a line to be drawn and an acceptance of a new way of working. If done well, it begins to create the conditions for constructive conversations.

It sounds simple but it doesn’t always happen immediately because it can be an uncomfortable experience unless the team are very eager to embrace it. There is also the need to create a culture of safety, so that

How much do you want the ‘future state’? It’s easy to keep doing what feels comfortable and much harder to do differently, so what will keep you focused on the goal when you are in the thick of it?

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