Stop the finger-pointing and create a healthy culture in your organisation

In organisations where finger-pointing is rife, it is likely that there is a pervasive blame culture. This will inevitably have a damaging effect on the success of your business. We give you five ways of turning this around, with a set of effective groundrules to guide you.

The dictionary defines finger-pointing as “the act of assigning blame for a harmful policy or unwise decision to another or others, often in an effort to deflect blame from oneself”.

An organisational culture of blame is divisive and problem-focused. It blames people rather than systems, and if combined with the closely associated behaviours of denial, cover-ups and excuses, it will lead to the organisation being indecisive, the staff being disengaged, and overall a reduction in initiative and creativity.

In an organisation where there is a deep-seated blame culture, there will be more than occasional examples of finger-pointing. Typically, meetings are littered with emotional, personal language and attacks. Decision-making stagnates, as people become fearful of being blamed if something goes wrong. Staff are concerned about making a wrong decision, risk-taking evaporates, and effort is shifted from creativity and delivery, to conservatism and self-protectionism. Transparency and knowledge-sharing dries up as your employees become fearful of someone knowing too much about what they do and uncovering an issue for which they will ultimately be blamed. Not surprisingly, trust evaporates at all levels.

So if you identify that your organisation is showing signs of a blame culture, how do you start to tackle it? There is no silver bullet that will magically solve this overnight because a profound change in the culture of your organisation will take time to bed in.

Here are 5 ways to start to turn this around:

  1. The behaviour and values start with you and your leadership. You will need to consciously focus on, and consistently manage, the change in culture that you want to see. This means rewarding and encouraging the ‘new’ behaviour. As a consequence you may need to implement a change in your performance management, which measures “attitude” as well as tangible results and “aptitude”.
  2. Introduce a set of Groundrules. At Leaders Lab when we start to work with a new client one of our priorities is to familiarise them with a set of Groundrules (see below for how to download a copy). The immediate objective is for the clients to use them to transform meetings, but the ultimate objective is to make them a part of the culture of the organisation. They are consciously designed to start to deal with the inherent problems of an organisation that views itself as ‘them and us’.
  3. Consider your systems and processes as part of the solution. Whenever possible blame a process not a person.
  4. Think long and hard about what it means to be truly accountable. Start with your own behaviour. If you say you will do something then you do it. If circumstances change then you communicate this, but you always take accountability for your own behaviour and actions.
  5. Ensure that you have ‘adult’ relationships with your staff. If you treat them like ‘children’, you will perpetuate the ‘them and us’ scenario and as a consequence they will never step up, show initiative and be fully accountable.

Creating and developing a healthy culture in your organisation is key to the success of your business, but it can sometimes feel like a bit of a black art. If you feel that you have allowed your organisation to slide into a blame culture that is holding the business back don’t ignore it but start to consciously tackle it.