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Avoid the Blame Game

Categories: Culture, Article

JW Way Fundamental #22: Practice Blameless Problem Solving 
"Blame has no place in our firm. Fix errors by focusing on solutions, not assessing blame. Learn from mistakes and use that knowledge to improve our processes. Mistakes are a critical component of learning." 

I believe maturity, both intellectual and emotional, is key to successfully practicing blameless problem solving. But let's begin with a simple, immature "blame game" example that's common in my household. My wife and I have four children and a dog. This means numerous messes and breakages with exponential occurrences of non-accountability. For every mess or breakage, there are at least four denials! The non-accountability usually comes in the form of an absolute denial "It wasn't me" or glad-to-speculate snitching "That was probably [fill in sibling/dog name here]". In our usual blame game, my wife or I set out with the fervor of a medieval inquisition to find the wrongdoer and impose punishment. For the record, on the rare occasions I'm accused, undeservedly of course, I blame whomever is not around or can't talk: "Damn dog, left that empty plate and glass on the coffee table again." The blame game here is immature because the leaders are not as interested in solutions as they are in assigning blame and punishment, and the kids are not as interested in solutions as they are in self-preservation.

Probably most of us have had similar experiences growing up, and it's no wonder that when things go wrong, even as adults, a core reflex is to find "someone" or "something" to blame and focus on the negative consequences and self-preservation. It takes a certain kind of maturity and professionalism to overcome that reflex and rise to a higher level of problem solving. How do we routinely rise to that higher level? Many business experts agree that there are four fundamental steps to mature/professional problem solving, none of which involve blame and punishment:

  1. Identify and define the problem;
  2. Generate alternative solutions;
  3. Analyze and select the best of the alternative solutions; and,
  4. Implement and follow up on the chosen solution.

Each of these steps incorporate and interrelate with several other JW Way Fundamentals. We must act with integrity and leave our egos at the door to best identify and define the problem, particularly if the problem lies within ourselves. We must listen fully and communicate to be understood for each step to be successful. At every step, we must demonstrate respect and not be jerks. Perhaps most important, we must recognize that blameless problem solving is an opportunity for continuous improvement and embracing change to avoid or minimize the problem in the future.

Mistakes will occur. Maturely and professionally responding to and improving from those mistakes is the JW Way!


About the AuthorMark D. Bogard is a Partner at the Phoenix-based law firm of Jaburg Wilk where his practice focuses on contractors and material suppliers, with an emphasis in construction contract drafting/revising and construction payment rights and remedies including mechanics’/materialmen’s liens and payment bonds. Mark can be reached at (602) 248-1000.