How to Stop Blaming Your Team: 3 Alternatives

Who’s to blame? That seems to be everyone’s primary concern when a project falls apart or things don’t go according to plan. We call it finger pointing. However, the reality is that failures can almost always be traced back to one person – the leader.

The Fork In The Road

Several years ago, I was in charge of an event. It was fairly “high vis.” New team members were on hand to see what right looked like. It was something I’d led multiple times before; however, there were some changes this time around. Shortly before we kicked off, I realized the technology wasn’t set up correctly. Someone had dropped the ball.

I had a choice to make. Did I blame team members for not following through? Or did I take responsibility?

Who Is The Problem?

In Entreleadership, Dave Ramsey describes how he views problems in his company:

So the problem with my company then and now is me. The problem with your company is not the economy, it is not the lack of opportunity, it is not your team. The problem is you. That is the bad news. The good news is, if you’re the problem, you’re also the solution.”

When things go wrong, it likely isn’t someone else’s fault at all. It’s yours, as the leader.

This can be a tough pill to swallow. However, given that you are the only person in your organization you can control, this ought to be encouraging. You can change you.

Taking Responsibility

Taking responsibility isn’t always easy, but as a leader it is necessary. When you stop blaming your team members and take responsibility, you can multiply the success of your team. Here are 3 alternative actions leaders can take to avoid blaming their team.

1. Don’t Blame…Communicate

When a team member doesn’t follow orders, directions, or guidance, how should you respond

Rather than blaming them, seek first to communicate. Perhaps they misunderstood the task. Perhaps you didn’t provide clear enough guidance. Perhaps you assumed too much.

You could ask a few clarifying questions. What was their guidance? What did they believe the objective was? How did they plan to get the task done?

The real question may be, “How can I communicate better next time?”

2. Don’t Blame…Train

When a team member doesn’t seem to understand how to execute a task the way you want, how should you respond?

This often happens with new team members, or those taking on a new role. Leaders assume they’ve been trained and have the requisite skills. When a task isn’t done the way you wanted, or a procedure isn’t followed, it can be easy to jump to conclusions. They don’t know what they’re doing. Why were they hired in the first place?

Rather than blaming the team member, check your assumptions. Who trained them to do the task? Was that a skill they were supposed to have coming into the position? If so, has anyone verified their ability to do it?

In most situations, the team members just need a little training. Show them what right looks like. Educate them on how to navigate that piece of software better. Coach them through delegating to their staff more effectively.

You may want to start by asking yourself, “How can I better train this person?”

3. Don’t Blame…Streamline

When a team member misses key details in a procedure or skips a step in a routine process, how should you respond?

This happens most often with implied tasks, the little steps involved in larger projects. When processes and procedures aren’t followed correctly, leaders may assume the team member is careless or isn’t trustworthy to follow through.

Rather than blaming the team member, consider whether or not you have set him or her up for success. Is the process too complex? Are there too many steps to remember? Has he or she been trained to do it?

In these situations, typically involving the delegation, leaders may not have made the process clear. Writing out a checklist, flow chart, or a step-by-step guide that includes screenshots or pictures can set the team member up for success.

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To help you be the solution and avoid blaming your team members, I developed a list of questions to help you communicate, train, and streamline better.


Be The Solution

So, when things fell through at the event I was responsible for, I had a choice to make. I wish I could say that I whole heartedly chose correctly. First, I spoke to the person who I thought was at fault. When neither they or I could recall assigning the task, then I took ownership. Communicating with the intent to blame is not the message. Going forward, I needed lead our team in streamlining the process so that details didn’t slip through the crack on this recurring task.

When things don’t go right, it can be difficult to look at ourselves in the mirror. However, it is the first place we should look to place blame. As Dave Ramsey said, we are the problems and fortunately, the solutions. So, before we jump to conclusions about our team members, it is our responsibility to set them up for success.

Question: As a leader, what is one thing you do to set your team up for success? Share your thoughts in the comments below this post!


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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