Company Culture: Learning from Failure Instead of Shifting the Blame

Things go wrong in every organization and often the immediate response is to assign blame. Despite this instinct, pointing towards a scapegoat neither solves the problem nor erases its existence. While we’re busy pointing fingers, we miss a valuable opportunity to learn and grow from our failure. This simple action simultaneously creates a company culture based on blame. It teaches teams to play it safe, hide mistakes and shift blame to someone else when a situation goes awry.

It can be incredibly difficult to admit our failings, but the health of our company culture hugely benefits from it. Displacing blame and failing to take responsibility for our actions only results in unhealthy teams and prevents us from reaching our full potential.

From the “Blame Game” to Learning

We should work towards shifting this “blame mindset” towards a “learning mindset.” Transition from viewing each mistake or shortfall as a failure and reframe it as a purposeful opportunity to learn and do better. Approach each failure with purpose, identifying what went wrong and how the entire team can do better in the future. Energy is better spent finding opportunities to improve instead of finding a person to blame.

A learning approach asks the individual and team:

  • Was the goal or expected outcome made clear?
  • What might you (or your team) have done differently to get a more desirable outcome?
  • Is there a process, policy, or system may have contributed to this problem?
  • What can be done to prevent this from happening in the future?

These types of questions help us gain perspective and insight while enabling us to identify failures in systems, communications, and structures. An excellent way to prevent future problems is to find their root cause and solve it.

The Role of the Leader

While these questions are helpful, there is one additional consideration: As a leader, the performance of your team depends heavily on your leadership. When things go wrong and you have the urge to point a finger at your team, realize the ultimate responsibility for the result lies with you. Ignoring your role in the failure does a great disservice to the growth of your team. Was there a lack of communication or an excess of micromanaging? A failure to keep the team on-target? To exchange a “blame mindset” for a “learning mindset” based on improvement, it’s the responsibility of the leader to lead that charge.

Blame is easy. It comes naturally to most of us, but in the end, it doesn’t make us better and it doesn’t bring out the best in our organizations. When mistakes happen, fight the urge to blame first. Instead, choose to use them as opportunities to learn, grow and improve.

Brené Brown wisely observed: “People who blame a lot seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we spend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is.” Make sure you spend your time and energy wisely, leading your team to learn and grow.

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