Fundamental #9 – Practice Blameless Problem-Solving


Practice blameless problem-solving.  Blame has no place in a high-performance organization. We fix mistakes by focusing on solutions.  Then we identify lessons learned and use those lessons to improve our processes so we don’t make the same mistakes again.  Processes fail, not people.

Many companies are known for having a “blame culture”.  Instead of trying to prevent a mistake from happening again they immediately look for who can they blame for this.   It is human nature to blame someone or something that is outside of our control when something goes wrong.  It actually makes us feel more comfortable if we can find something or someone else to blame.  What results is a climate of fear and secrecy and a lack of innovation and experimentation.  People stop taking risks in fear of “rocking the boat”.  If a mistake is made, they try to cover it up or blame someone or something else.  This makes for an unpleasant place to work and will most likely never become world class.

Now let’s think about this at Webco.  What’s the first thing that you think when someone tells you that you made a mistake?  Do you experience the feelings of denial or defensiveness?  I tend to see signs of blame culture manifest in CYA emails that we may receive or hiding mistakes by “fixing” the problem without reporting so someone doesn’t get into “trouble” or blaming someone else for not giving sufficient training and so on.  Let me ask, is this an effective use of our time?  Doesn’t that time and effort go against this fundamental (and many others)?   Is this how we want Webco to be?

I have to say the timing on this fundamental is ironic being right after the ISO audit and honestly I am struggling with it.  This is one of the most challenging fundamentals to really practice b/c situations like the audit bring to light problems that may actually require some blame being placed.  The struggle for me is if someone makes a mistake once, that is a great opportunity for embracing the fundamental and do some real problem solving but what do you do with mistakes that haven’t been learned from and happen time and time again?  Isn’t blame necessary in those cases?  I truly believe in this fundamental but without other fundamentals being embraced like take ownership, honor commitments and be resourceful and find a way to make it happen I don’t know that practicing blameless problem solving will ever be fully integrated into our culture.   

I know none of us want to work in a “blame culture” so to me that means all of us need to take ownership, go the extra mile, be a smart decision maker, be resourceful and find a way to make it happen.  If all of that occurred, blameless problem solving would naturally occur. The better we get at practicing this and all fundamentals, the closer we will get to world class.

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. – John Powell

– Amy Ammer