In an ideal world we wouldn’t be blame seekers – we would be problem solvers, but the interpersonal dynamic often doesn’t work that way. Sometimes it’s easier for people not to look too closely in the mirror when things aren’t going as anticipated. As a leader, if you had the opportunity to create a company (or department) that is less focused on problems and more focused on solutions, how would you go about it? How would you stop the blaming and start problem solving?

The pointing of fingers to charge somebody else for whatever’s going wrong is one of the most common symptoms of a department or a company in storming mode (in ongoing conflict). One department thinks they and the company would be just fine “if only those $*&%[email protected] down the hall would get their acts together,” and vice versa.  Conflict and blaming behavior can arise from additions to staff, promotions, demotions, industry upheaval, new technology, or a new direction by senior management. Although some degree of storming is a natural part of every teams’ adaptation to change, blaming behavior can become an unpleasant habit that undermines problem solving and productive work relationships.

The good news is that there are factors over which you have control and/or influence that help to reduce blaming behavior. The three components below are interdependent:

Strategy – If the company doesn’t have a formalized and widely communicated direction, an established agenda, it’s likely that all of the players are going to be working toward their own purposes. They might be acting in what they perceive to be the company’s best interests, but they are unlikely to be operating in alignment with one another without an integrated plan. The resulting environment becomes one of ongoing interpersonal brush fires and either scattered or wasted resources. On what basis are effective decisions to be made when the desired outcome has not been defined clearly and communicated to those accountable to achieve it? Lack of clear strategic direction leaves the staff to duke it out.

Management Systems – There is a host of factors to include in this piece of the puzzle – reward and recognition, hiring and promotion criteria, communication methods, company structure, even dress code, etc. This is where the written and unwritten rules governing employee behavior originate. In many instances unless the company undertakes intentional employee development, it is going to have to cope with a broad mix of motivation and interpersonal skills, and greater than desirable impact from a few “bad seeds.” Even with proffered development opportunities, it’s still each employee’s choice whether or not to get on board. But without attention, this component will create a substantial quantity of gray hair.

Operational Systems – You can have the best employees in the world and eventually they’ll be beaten into a pulp by broken processes. The methods by which work gets done have a huge impact, of course, on cost, speed, quality, customer loyalty and resulting profitability. They also have an impact on employee morale, productivity, absenteeism and turnover. Operational systems don’t necessarily have to receive a huge infusion of cash and technology to improve dramatically. Often creativity on the part of the people doing the work can achieve better results than the company does when it decides to throw money at a problem.

To review – strategy creates the foundation, management systems create the internal operating environment, and operational systems get things done. It’s like a giant bowl of Jell-O – when you poke it in one spot the rest of the gelatin will start to wiggle. If you tinker with one area without considering the interrelated nature of these three components you can expect to see reverberations. If you take a balanced approach – and this doesn’t have to be simultaneously – and attack each of these three areas with the whole picture in mind you have the best shot at sustainable improvement and reduced conflict.

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