Are You Caught in the Blame Game?


I was once an unwitting player in the “Blame Game.” I was fairly new to the organization as a high-level manager of a major department. I was charged with implementing a total restructure of the service model and strategic plan and was accomplishing a lot of good work with my team.

After a bumpy start, things were moving along well, and I thought we were rockin’ and rollin’ toward very significant success for the organization in this high priority and high visibility operation. But, something shifted at the top, and suddenly there was a target on my back. Every slight mistake prompted a snarky email directly to me or a verbal warning from the top through my supervisor that no errors would be tolerated. I was getting blamed for every minor error or mistake that happened. The message was this: everyone is in it for themselves here and we will look for someone to blame when anything goes wrong. I couldn’t protect my team and everyone became unwilling and fearful players in the “blame game.”

This blaming culture creates an atmosphere of fear in any organization. We get analysis paralysis because we are so afraid of even the slightest thing going wrong that we would rather risk doing nothing. It is counterproductive to what is desired, which is the elimination of errors, production or customer service problems, missed deadlines, accountability.

When something goes wrong and you immediately look for someone to blame, when the first thing you want to know is, “Whose fault is it?” You may think that will quickly give you some control over the situation. But, in fact, blaming creates an atmosphere that discourages accountability. Blaming is corrosive to a culture of trust and positive relationships.

When we are not listening to what our employees are telling us because we are so busy looking for a way to assign fault and blame, we miss opportunities to begin the process of creating a culture of accountability, trust and collaboration.  People who blame a lot generally don’t have the tenacity or confidence to do the work it takes to hold people accountable. It’s easier to blame someone else when something goes wrong than to put in the hard work to develop a culture and relationships that support trust and success.

If you are caught in a blaming culture, either as a blamer, or on the receiving end, try introducing or suggesting these techniques to make the shift from a command and control culture, to a collaborative, coaching management style that empowers employees to take decisive action, supports their acknowledgement of and actions to correct anything that might go wrong.

  1. Take a Look In the Mirror

A leader can’t expect the organization to change attitude or culture until he or she does. If you have been operating in a blame-based mode, take a good, close, look at what’s motivating you. Is it fear of failure, fear of risk, of being wrong or unpopular? The first step to creating an excuse-free organization is for the leaders to step up and “own it” when problems occur, or mistakes are made, and commit to a new blame-free way of dealing with them.

  1. Break Down Communication Silos

If people don’t know what’s expected of them or if they don’t have enough information to work with, and then there’s a “gotcha” when something goes wrong, they will begin to avoid doing anything or will do as little as possible.  Share information, have an open door policy if there are questions, set clear expectations and provide the support needed to meet the objective.

  1. Become A Solutions-Oriented Problem Solver

If blame isn’t an option what do you do?  Focus on the solution, not whose fault it is that it happened. Support the kind of conversations that encourage a solutions focus and ask the team to bring solutions-oriented attitudes to the table. Outlaw excuses and blame in the conversation of the organization. Establish clear expectations, SMART goals, deadlines and accountability. And, make sure that the support needed is there, either through teams working together or a regular plan for one-on-one coaching.

It’s a new win-win game when the culture encourages everyone to come to work with a confident, proactive mindset, and a willingness to own their mistakes because they know the focus is on performance and growth rather than finding someone to blame.

Mary Vail-Grube is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Darryl Perkinson


Great topic and tools to begin addressing issues associated with the “blame game”. I was a casualty of the blame game and the real issue came down to internal politics. There is a problem in some activities to circumvent the judicial processes to protect the truly guilty The downside to such actions are the dedicated employees that suffer in the name of political survival. This issue strips he government from the services of some extremely talented and honorable people.