Stop the Finger-Pointing: How to Avoid Blame Culture on Your Project Team
When I was a little kid, I remember my mother constantly telling me, "Don't point at people, it's rude." While the circumstances were a little different then, I have to say, I've never seen so much finger-pointing as I have since I've been a part of the corporate world. Unfortunately, when people's jobs, reputations, bonus checks, or pride could be in jeopardy, finger-pointing and passing the blame becomes the first step of self-preservation for employees.
The problem with that is a culture full of blame causes a lot of problems. Before you know it, your team, department, or even organizational culture becomes toxic because nobody feels safe—and there's no trust. So, what do you do when your project team becomes plagued with pointed fingers? Projects are so risky by nature that setbacks and failure happen more often than not and when stakeholders want answers...it's hard not to find someone to blame.
Chris Robinson, author of the Projects Guru blog gives 10 great tips for eliminating blame culture on your project team:
1. Adopt a leadership position by ignoring the accepted blame culture & practicing a solution-based mind set.
2. Instead of asking who did what & why identify the steps required to move from the current position to the desired one.
3. Look to the future not the past, develop a vision of where you want the organization to be.
4. Ignore the jibes of others who try to lay the blame by focusing on the steps required to achieve the desired outcome.
5. Lead by example – people will begin to notice & copy positive behavior.
6. Reward positive behavior with encouragement.
7. Deal with negative behavior by ignoring it.
8. Promote positive people within the organization at the expense of those who cannot change.
9. Forgive those who exhibit redemption.
10. Celebrate success & generate genuine teamwork.
The only note I would add to Chris' tips deals with #7. I suggest, instead of ignoring negative behavior, addressing it appropriately—in private, with frank, but understanding conversation. If negative behavior doesn't change, appropriate consequences should follow. In addition to that, when proper recognition (a public thank you email, props in a team meeting, etc.) is given to team members who perform and behave positively, it helps to improve morale and trust on your project team.
In my experience, blame culture exists in organizations where there is low visibility at every level—executives, managers, and even team members. Without visibility, accountability suffers and finger-pointing becomes the norm when issues arise because there's no way to see the real facts and data. It's my opinion that the best way to eliminate blame culture for the long run is to implement and adopt a single system of truth, where workloads, collaboration in the context of work, resources, and projects are all visible to everyone involved.