Our Capital People HR Consultant Cate Oliver looks at how employers can eliminate a culture of blame in the workplace.

This weekend, following the suspension of the travel ban imposed on seven Muslim-majority countries, Donald Trump stated that the US should ‘blame’ a federal judge and the American court system in the event of a terrorist attack on the US. This is despite the reason for the suspension being to consider the lawfulness of the ban itself.

A culture of blame often derives from a bullying leader who creates a culture of fear – one that ‘shoots the messenger’.  This can have an exceptionally damaging impact on an organisation or a team.  Relationships become dysfunctional, morale disappears and employee turnover increases. This leads to energy being wasted - shifting from the interest of the team or organisation to self-preservation as people start to defend their own position. People cease to take risks or think creatively, and opportunities are lost.

So how can we eliminate a culture of blame in our workplace?

  • Share your vision with the team and clearly define the role each person plays in achieving the big picture
  • Focus on values, behaviours and process rather than blaming others
  • Develop a strong culture of transparency and accountability to focus your team’s efforts where they belong
  • Be the first to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them – particularly if you are a leader
  • Develop a learning culture - encourage people to admit their mistakes-without humiliating them- to maximize learning from them at an individual, team and organisational level without apportioning blame
  • Use effective communication techniques which consider other perspectives and check assumptions before reacting
  • Address any conversation shifting to the subject of blame at the earliest opportunity, clarifying and reinforcing where accountability sits
  • Make sure that every project has clear accountability and expected outcomes
  • Remember that we are all human and everyone makes mistakes yet sometimes these mistakes are harmful to the organisation or team’s efforts.  

President Truman famously had a plaque on his desk that said “The buck stops here” referring to him taking responsibility for any decisions he made and the governance of the country. Quite the opposite of those people who want to ‘pass the buck’ as quickly as possible, blame others and not learn from their mistakes.