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Create a Success Oriented Culture by Avoiding Blame Games at Work

By Julie King |

Have you "taken one for the team" at work and accepted blame for something that wasn't your fault?

A new survey Office Team has found that almost half of senior managers (47 per cent) have, with the top reasons being split equally at 34 per cent between the manager feeling it was his or her fault indirectly and not wanting to argue over a minor infraction.

Another 10 per cent of respondents said that an explanation would take more effort than it was worth and 7 per cent did not want to get others in trouble.

It is important for leaders to create a culture of accountability and to not tolerate 'blame-games', notes Jane Gertner, an advisor with the Ontario-based innovation centre ventureLAB.

Accepting blame-games has an ongoing impact on your team

When a manager shoulders blame for things that are not his or her fault, this has both short- and long-term impact on their work team.

"Their team loses respect for the manager (not standing up for themselves) and also accepts a culture of blame," Gertner says. "It also clearly does not hold the right people accountable for their actions.  This often allows workplace bullies to thrive!"

Gertner explains that when she worked at Weston Foods, the president of the company who was also her boss had a saying "no monkeys on my back," which to him meant that employees dealt with everything themselves and at the appropriate level.

Gertner stresses that employees and managers should never shoulder the blame or a problem that isn't yours and more importantly they should never send it upwards.

"I was always trained this way and feel very strongly about it," says Gertner. "You never learn to be an effective manager if you don't adhere to this principle."

"Whenever he [Gertner's boss] felt any of us were 'delegating' our blame or problems upwards or downward, he said 'no monkeys'…. That was our cue to ensure that the appropriate person dealt with the problem or blame…. it was powerful training or lesson."

When you feel indirectly responsible

In a situation where a manager feels indirectly responsible for a situation, Gertner recommends the manager "… fess up and find a professional way to deal with this difficult situation."

"Also, reach out to the person who "shares" that blame with you and explain that it is a 'shared' situation (you shoulder some of the blame). Then communicate how you handled this experience with some team members," says Gertner. "It is very effective hands on learning/training for them."

When it seems petty to assign blame

For situations where dolling out blame seem petty, Gertner says write it off, but also make a mental note.

"If it happens with any frequency, note this, and then have a 'conversation' with the individual about this 'trend.'"

She explains that when this does not happen, the team not only loses respect for the manager for not standing up for himself or herself, but the manager also accepts a culture of blame, which can be destructive.

Avoiding blame-games

With almost half of senior managers admitting to having accepted blame that was not theirs to shoulder, clearly there is room for improvement. Gertner notes that the best way to address this is to focus on changing the workplace culture.

"Like my Weston situation, it helps to have a culture where people aren't chastised for mistakes, and are comfortable owning up to them, " says Gertner.

"Even more importantly, to train people to recognize when a problem is theirs to 'own' and empower and train them to deal with it," says Gertner. " A slogan (no more monkeys) on our part as a cue helped a lot…"

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