Fundamental of the Week #18: Practice Blameless Problem Solving

Focus on finding a solution, not who is at fault. Apply your creativity, spirit and enthusiasm to the development of solutions. Identify lessons learned and use those lessons to improve processes, so we learn from every experience.

There is a great deal of power in this fundamental, Practice Blameless Problem Solving. For starters, when you are dealing with a problem or a breakdown, where is your attention? Is it on the issue itself, or on who is responsible for this happening? Years of organizational experience tells me it is often on who is responsible, whose fault is this. The bigger the issue, the more emotion around the problem, chances are the greater the tendency to seek blame. The more our attention goes there the less focus we have on the solution and what focus we do have is clouded with judgment about “who caused this!” It is a fundamentally flawed system or approach and we all indulge in it. Dr. Elliott Cohen talks about this in Psychology today:

“The blame game consists of blaming another person for an event or state of affairs thought to be undesirable, and persisting in it instead of proactively making changes that ameliorate the situation. The drive shaft of this game is a series of four irrational beliefs:

  1. If something has gone wrong (or is not the way it should be), then someone other than myself must be identified and blamed for causing the situation.
  2. This person/s’ malfeasance diminishes the respect he/she deserves as a person.
  3. So, it is permissible (and only fitting) to treat this person/s in ways he/she deserves to be treated such as ignoring, name-calling, and in extreme cases, physical assault.
  4. I must not accept any significant degree of responsibility for the situation inasmuch as to do so would be to admit that I am myself also diminished as a person, and therefore deserving of the same disapprobation and negative treatment.

Psychology is not always kind!”

Blameless problem solving involves setting our emotional response aside (to the best of our ability) focusing on the problem, what outcome is wanted/needed and go to work on getting that outcome. When my attention is drawn to that, I have much more creativity and clarity of thought to find solutions. Frankly, whose fault it is, is pretty much irrelevant, at this point, unless I want to deflect any accountability on my part. Solve the problem by focusing on the problem. The result is less stress and more resolutions. When the issue is resolved to satisfaction then there is room for learning what you can from what caused the problem to begin with. Notice, there is still no blame in the situation, only outcomes and learning. When we are looking to blame, our attention is diverted and we rarely get to the cause of the issue to begin with, but that’s a conversation for next week: #19 Fix Problems at the Source.

Craig Clark
Founder and CEO,
Momentum Consulting, Inc