A Culture of Blame

1 Jun

Recently, I was in an organization with a pervasive culture of blame.  Such a culture begins at the top and flows throughout the organization.  What are the unintended results of blaming and finding fault?

Everyone who comes to work knowingly or unknowingly optimizes to the organization’s demand characteristics.  They try to behave in a way to maximize reward and minimize punishment.  Placing blame is a powerful form of punishment.  Psychologists know punishment causes three major effects:

• Escape

• Avoidance

• Negative emotional responses

People’s reactions are proportional to the intensity of the punishment.

In the workplace the least bad option to a culture of blame is to never draw attention to yourself.  This means:

• Follow the rules exactly, never suggest anything new.

• Minimize your communications.

• Don’t help others unless no one above you will notice.

This is the perfect formula for minimizing productivity.


Mistakes are information rich.  Mistakes are opportunities to identify problems, make improvements and to get smarter.

Finding fault and assigning blame are very different from identifying mistakes and solving problems.

The events may be identical, but the choice of language produces utterly different responses.

Next week: Finding opportunity in blame cultures.

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