Too often in the business world (and in many families), we get caught in the blame game. Something goes wrong and we have to figure out who made the mistake and vilify them. This sets up an environment of fear that does not support good teaming, healthy communication, or really anything that we want to create in our teams or develop within our careers. How do we jump out of this horrible game? It is really hard to do. I have some ideas, but would love to hear more from folks that have had success.
- Remember everyone is not perfect. When setting expectations and making plans, it is important to take into account each team member’s level of competency as well as how much time they have to accomplish the tasks or meet the expectations. You must make sure that your minimum standards are achievable most of the time by most of the team members. You must also make sure that you action steps can be accomplished by the person responsible in the time given. Do not fall into the trap of setting minimum expectations or giving deadlines for action steps based on your highest performing person’s best day. These tactics can be perceived as aspirational or creating urgency, but in truth it sets most everyone up for failure. When someone is failing to meet minimum expectations at their job or they cannot accomplish tasks in the time required, they will feel hopeless and fear for their job. Oftentimes, this leads to folks finding ways to blame others for their failings. That is never good. I have seen reasonable, ethical, competent people start cutting corners or giving up because they are not able to meet the standards. It is difficult, but strive to find the balance between setting realistic minimum expectations and encouraging greatness through pushing folks past their typical performance.
- Leaders admit your own mistakes! Just as you must remember that your team members are not perfect, you must remember that you are human as well. Whenever you make a mistake, it is important to analyze how that mistake has impacted your team. If there is minimal impact and you can easily correct it, let it go. Your team doesn’t want to hear about every time you spill milk. However, if your mistake has led to mistakes or miscommunication within the team, admit it. Your team, if they are any good at all, already knows you made the mistake. Your admitting it will allow the conversation to open about how to rectify the mistake or at least mitigate its effects. You are also using your actions to show that you do not expect perfection and you expect others to own up when they have made a mistake. If minimum standards are reasonable and leaders admit to their own mistakes, the topic of performance is less fraught with anxiety.
- Make it okay to talk about it. When someone makes a mistake, oftentimes their biggest fear is that they will get in trouble. Little children blame imaginary friends or deny doing anything wrong. This is something we struggle with all of our lives. Most of the time, when folks fess up, there is minimal damage that has occurred and plans to mitigate or correct can be readily developed. I admit that there are times when mistakes are huge and should lead to disciplinary actions, but this does not mean that every mistake should have that level of intervention. When mistakes happen, focus the conversation on how to resolve the issue and learn from the outcomes. Inquisitions to determine ” who did this?” and “who’s to blame?” and, even worse, “how can we punish the responsible party?” are often unnecessary. Some of this information will be gleaned through identifying what happened and what can be learned – never forget to learn from your mistakes – but the focus of the conversation should be on moving forward, not blaming and getting back at the person who made the mistake. Remember to save the inquisitions for only the most heinous “mistakes,” like actions against the team, illegal or unethical actions, etc. Just remember to take a big breath and do a little exploration before you assume that a mistake is an action against the team.
- We’re in this together! Pull the whole team into problem-solving. If it is okay to talk about mistakes, your team can put their heads together to resolve it. This could mean action steps to clear up any negative consequences. It could also mean identifying ways to address any larger, system-level issues that led to the mistake. With a good team, you are able to let go of blame and work together to decrease the chances of the mistake happening again.
- Learn from mistakes. This has been my refrain throughout this blog, but it is truly important to analyze what happened that led to the mistake (even if it was simple human error), see if there are any ways to improve procedures to decrease that type of mistake, and then make sure your process of handling the mistake was effective.
When you are able to jump out of the blame game, your teams will work more effectively together. Fewer mistakes will occur because folks will focus on their work and won’t be on the look out for the next punishment or the next stab in the back. They will know that they are accepted as the skilled and talented human beings that they are. Value each member for what they contribute and allow space for imperfection! I promise, your team will be healthier for it!!
If you would like help jumping out of the blame game, feel free to give me a call: 424-241-3205 or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.