Blame-the-team toxin erodes team performance

Take a moment to think about the last time something went wrong for you. What was your immediate response?

Did you:

a) Blame: look to see whose fault it was

b) Defend: It’s not my fault because…

c) Fix: leap into fix, solve or save the situation

d) Seek to understand the situation

Working with teams and observing my own processes and the processes of others, blame often raises its ugly head to undermine relationships, team performance and sabotage our personal and professional goals.

For those of you that found that blame pops up as a consistent theme/default reaction, please do not beat yourself up. Welcome to the human condition! As human beings, contrary to popular myth, perfection doesn’t reside within us and is impossible to attain.

From the dawn of time we have looked to blame to let us off the hook, to undermine others and to distance ourselves from a situation. The first step is noticing; then we get to choose whether or not we act on our first reaction.

It can be as simple as a phrase: OK, I am looking for someone/something to blame, what if I replace that with something else? Replace is a great strategy for shifting your perspective and health professionals have been using this strategy for years to help individuals choose healthier life/diet habits.

We can do the same. A suggestion to replace blame to something more productive is: Seek to understand.

When we seek to understand more, it automatically shifts our thinking and energy, which positively impacts our communication and the impact we have. It gives space for objective and creative thinking, which is ultimately more powerful than one of blame.

From here we can engage others (and ourselves) to become part of the solution. It’s an empowering place to come from, especially when the person who feels most responsible is given space to become part of the solution.

Blame is the team toxin that I see pop up consistently in teams that are underperforming, where accountability is an issue and where trust is at an all-time low. It’s hard to be innovative and creative when blame is present, what if you make a mistake! Does the culture allow for admission/openness regarding mistakes?

If blame is prevalent in your team, below are some tips on how to neutralise the culture of blame:

1. Have a courageous conversation about the presence of the culture of blame in your team and the negative impact this is having. Identify the costs.

2. Clear/open communication around expectations/roles/accountability, etc.

3. Be a champion of busting blame. When working with teams I often ask for someone to take on board the role of champion, someone who will fly the flag for a certain theme/topic. For example, when a team is running off track at a meeting, who will champion staying on the agenda? This works wonderfully well. It doesn’t mean that the person is responsible for it. They call it out: when championing busting blame, call out the behaviour.

4. Decide not to collude with the blame game. Take the reins on your behaviour, admit mistakes and avoid gossip.

Blame does and will pop up, by recognising this and by being personally accountable, as well as accountable as a team, you can neutralise the culture of blame before it neutralises your team.

To read more about team toxins see my previous blog, ‘How to detox your team‘.

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian-based coaching and training company.

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