Practice Blameless Problem Solving | FOW #18

I’d like to share an awesome quote with you, “Anger, blame, and martyrdom are thieves. They steal time, relationships and respect. Personal accountability is the life giver, the thing that fills the soul with esteem and repairs it from the inside out.” (Amy Larson)

This quote speaks directly to one of Momentum Consulting’s key fundamentals, practicing blameless problem solving.

When something goes wrong – a project delay, a personnel issue, a revenue shortfall – the kneejerk reaction is to assign blame. Throw someone else under the bus so you don’t get dragged under, or blame ourselves, substituting martyrdom for accountability. We’ve encountered many dysfunctional firms in which assigning blame is part of the company culture, coming from the top by example.

When we blame others, make personal excuses and/or wait for the problem to go away, we exacerbate the issue:

  • First, the time and energy spent assigning blame is not being directed towards solving the problem. The clock is ticking.
  • The only lesson learned is to stay out from under the bus, not how to avoid the problem in the future. The issue will likely recur.
  • Your team will quickly understand that they must do all they can to avoid the finger of blame pointing at them, so will be less likely to take risks and try new ideas. Growth will stagnate.

Accountability, on the other hand, will move you and your company forward. As Marilyn Paul points out, the dictionary makes the difference quite clear: to be accountable is “to be counted on or reckoned on.” To blame is “to find fault with, to censure, revile, reproach.”

So, what do blameless problem solving and accountability look like?

  • Start with ownership of the problem, by an individual, team or entire company.  Identify not just the resulting mess, but the root cause.
  • Brainstorm a short-term fix: use the understanding of the problem’s cause and the talent on your team to develop a solution to the current situation.
  • Create a long-term fix: once the fire is out, revisit the process(es) which broke down and use your new experience and knowledge to make improvements, ensuring the mistake is not repeated.

Blaming others does not mean you’re a terrible human being, this is a habit that has taken you years of practice to take hold, so breaking that habit takes some work.

Practicing accountability will take conscious effort on your part, especially as a leader; you may be afraid you will be perceived as weak and imperfect. However, quite the opposite is true; effective leadership requires accountability. Not demonstrating personal accountability paints you as a victim of circumstances not under your control, and a victim is NOT a leader.

Thoughts? Please comment below and share any situations in which you or others were able to turn around a cycle of blame.



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