Why Playing The Blame Game Ruins Collaboration

If you could name a few habits that ruin the workplace environment, what would they be? The coworker who is never prepared for meetings, the teammate who drinks the last cup of coffee, maybe the person who schedules meetings on Friday afternoons- yeah they are the worst. But there is nothing a little healthy communication can’t fix, right? Well what if you’re trying to deal with someone who is constantly blaming other people for mistakes, this is where that line of communication can get a bit grey.

Blame is one single word that has the power to make or break your team structure. It is one of the most common ways to transform a positive company culture into a toxic playground that no one will enjoy. You’ve seen it, heard it, and grinded your teeth at the way it makes you feel.  It prevents team collaboration, camaraderie, and can prevent employees from being able to perform their job to the best of their ability. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room that is the habit of “blame” and how you can prevent it from destroying team collaboration whether you’re working on a project or having a meeting.

Understanding The Blame Game

Whether you’re an executive, manager, associate, or employee, blame is an employee trait you want to eliminate as quickly as possible from your work environment. If you have ever been a part of a project or meeting where something goes wrong and the reaction follows different scenarios from “Whose fault is it?” to a group or person singling out another team for poor performance, then you have had an unfortunate experience of how blame trickles into work. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and casts a seed of negativity that has the ability to grow whether you are the blamer, person being blamed, or a teammate who witnessed the interaction. 

While blame can sometimes be confused with “accountability” they are vastly different and that lies in how they are communicated to employees. Blame is when you hold a single person or a team accountable for something that went wrong. Accountability is having a clear, respectful conversation with an individual that reiterates keeping agreements and still allows a comfortable atmosphere for a person to perform their job. Two very different forms of communication with staggeringly different results. Workplace problems occur everyday, goals are not always met, and a product or service can underperform, it happens. We get it. 

The difference between accountability and blame is saying, here’s the problem, but this is who we’re going to solve it.. Blame can be the tiny fly that crawls into your organizational structure and leaves a mess of maggots and filth. The consequences of blame aren’t just a few hurt feelings, but it can have a deep effect on the mental and emotional well-being of your employees and the performance of your team. 

How Blame Affects Your Team

Blame should never be used as a strategy or method to inspire your team to work harder. The whole “good cop” “bad cop” approach shouldn’t even be a method you use to challenge those around you. In fact, it does just the opposite. When a leader or teammate communicates with blame, the results could be costly for the entire organization. Once an individual or team feels singled out for underperforming they can begin to feel shame, inadequacy, disengagement, and reduce productivity. Which basically means, they are gonna check out. How a leader or team responds to problems reveals a lot about their character, ethics, and communication at work. When you take an approach to blame versus using accountability to create an effective dialogue for change, the long term impact can be disastrous. Still don’t believe us? Read below for more details on how playing the blame game hurts your team.

  • Not enable innovation or growth - Blame has the ability to place seeds of doubt, frustration, and general disengagement from work. If employees are concerned that they will be blamed for a mistake they will be less invested in collaborating or focusing their efforts to be creative, make suggestions, and confidently bring up their ideas for a new product or service.
  • Slow communication - Once a team member feels disrespected or undervalued, they’ll begin to mentally and emotionally withdraw from communication at work out of fear or worry which can reduce the flow of information. Communication is the lifeblood of a positive work culture and after that is eliminated, there is no progress. If you can see or identify an employee distancing themselves from you or their team because of blame, it needs to be addressed immediately.
  • Force your best people to quit - Nobody wants to belong to a business or company that dilutes work efforts because blame. In a culture that places a high priority on mental health, self-love, and work being a place to be valued, it won’t take long for your best employees to walk out the door. Having a blame culture affects everyone and your top talent will leave for greener pastures if they feel like there isn’t a comfortable space to receive feedback or criticism respectfully.
  • Halt the forward momentum of a project - There is no “I” in the team and without healthy communication, there will be no collaboration on projects. Blame can halt all work efforts and engagement in a current project which can not only ruin a deadline but end up being costly because of mistakes, errors, or having to bring new people in to finish the job.
  • Creates a toxic work environment - When you start to create a cycle of blame within your team, it won’t take long to spread to the rest of your organization. Blame can run rampant within everyday dialogue and conversion because precedent has been set of “shifting the burden” instead of ownership.

Yes, blame can be one of the most frustrating and disheartening methods used in the workplace, but it can be fixed. All is not lost. When the chips are down, it’s time to turn it around and change the approach from blame to structured communication that uplifts your employees.

Empower Your Employees Through Accountability

Mistakes happen, but learning how to talk and encourage your employees in a constructive manner can help change how they perform afterwards. They are humans with real feelings, not robots to command at will. Developing the skills for effective delegation may require learning how to improve your communication skills to provide feedback versus critiquing a project. Yes, that means you may have to do some additional homework in order to change your communication style. As a leader, delegation can be as simple as setting clear, defined expectations and goals for a project and changing how you talk to your employees. Tone, voice, and diction can play a large role in how an employee receives your feedback and this could be a make or break moment that reflects your effectiveness as a leader. 

Here are 3 ways you can work to improve your leadership style

  • Listen vs. reacting- If an employee comes to you expressing sentiments of failure or worry about their performance on a project, listen first. Don’t bite their head off the first chance you get. It can be tempting to only hear the negative aspects of the conversation, but without listening you’ll be unable to help solve the problem. 
  • Address conflict directly- One of the major side effects of blame is that it can create office gossip or banter. As a leader you want to stop this train before it pulls out the station, don’t allow any room for speculation or theory in regards to a person feeling they were blamed.
  • Establish organizational accountability- A team is composed of individuals, but the success or failure of a team should never be placed on the shoulders of one person. Make sure you’re creating an environment where regardless of one person or team, the organization understands that a win is a win for everyone and the same with a loss. 

There is always room for improvement and growth in an organization regardless of the size or industry. You can create a positive work environment by changing how you engage with employees. The first step forward is improving communication, preventing blame culture in your workplace, and enhancing your leadership skills through clear delegation during a project or task.