Moving from Blame to Accountability (.pdf)

When something goes wrong in an organization, the first question that is often posed is, “Whose fault is it?”

Blaming seems to be a natural reflex in many organizations. Even those individuals who wish to learn from mistakes fall into naming culprits. Once we figure out who’s at fault, we then try to find out what is wrong with the supposed offenders. Only when we discover what is wrong with them do we feel we have grasped the problem. Clearly they are the problem, and changing or getting rid of them (or simply being angry at them) is the solution.

There’s a problem with this common scenario, however: where there is blame, there is no learning. Where there is blame, open minds close, inquiry tends to cease, and the desire to understand the whole system diminishes. When people work in an atmosphere of blame, they naturally cover up their errors and hide their real concerns. And when energy goes into fingerpointing, scapegoating, and denying responsibility, productivity suffers because the organization lacks information about the real state of affairs. It’s impossible to make good decisions with poor information.

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