When working in a team trying to deliver software things don’t always go right. Quite often they actually go wrong. Sometimes though they go so wrong that there are consequences for others. And when things go wrong, someone is to blame.
It’s natural to protect yourself and make sure all attention is on the next person by blaming and pointing. Perhaps you just sit idly and let others deal out blame and this helps you get by on a day-to-day basis. If you and the people around you are dealing out blame, you aren’t only making it bad for those around you, but for yourself.
Mistakes in this article refers to errors and mishaps that happen on a day-to-day basis at your workplace or in life in general. Deleting the wrong database. Losing your temper with a colleague. Forgetting to tell about an external deadline. Cutting someone off in traffic.
What it doesn’t cover in this article is being negligent, breaking the law, harming others and other acts of hate or clear recklessness. There are laws and regulations that govern these matters.
Blame’s best friend: shame
There are two perspectives when placing blame on someone, or a group of people. Someone placing blame, and someone receiving blame. With a blame-mentality, people that do something wrong are punished. They are failures on some level and need to know this. When you give out blame as a superior, you are shaming the person on the receiving end.
Now shame is a funny thing. When shaming others we are reducing from their potential. Not only have they made a mistake, they’ve also now been told they aren’t worthy on some level. Shame is such a powerful emotion that it can break someone completely.
If blame is a natural part of your team culture, you foster a culture of shame-avoidance. When people are on the defensive then petty issues become blown out of proportion. Team members cannot work together, or they prefer working in their own areas. Departments stop working with each other and against each other. Innovation and growth comes to a halt and a culture of mistrust and hostility may evolve.
Responsibly taking the blame
To stop this vicious cycle is actually really easy. Stop blaming others. When something bad happens that affects you, someone near you or especially someone “below” you, you need to step up and point the finger at yourself. This isn’t about martyrdom or “taking one for the team”.
Instead, try to take a step back and assess the situation from another perspective. Take responsibility, own the mistake and seek to learn the truth about it. If a team member has messed up then you can let them know that actions they have taken have had negative consequences. Also, let them know that you take responsibility since some flaw in the system has allowed this mistake to happen.
To fix a mistake that has arisen, you need to look at how you can improve yourself, your mentoring or the possibilities so others can’t make the same mistake again. The idea is to learn from the mistake, and not punish the person in question. You open up an opportunity for that person to grow, and at the same time strengthen the relationship and add marbles the trust-jar.
Great relationships don’t just happen. People have made mistakes together and have learned. It’s through mistakes, we challenge each other. It’s then up to you to decide if you want to help each other out or tear each other down.
Quit blaming others! Responsibly take the blame yourself and look for how you and those around you can grow.