Is your Organization plagued by the “Culture of Blame”?


Although making mistakes is a part of human nature, they are still tabooed, covered up, or kept secret. This behavior probably has its origin in our socialization. Errors made by people are perceived as a competence deficit. Causing of errors leads to a negative self-assessment, and also to rising perception of penalty as a necessity.

Organizational failure culture is an integral part of corporate culture. It implies the individual and collective knowledge about the meaning of errors and failures in daily work life and the consequences that they might cause. The understanding of errors can be regarded as a continuum between error avoidance and error management. In the extreme position of error avoidance, errors are viewed as an unnecessary risk. This is where the “culture of blame” comes in. It is characterized by the fact that identifying the person to blame is more important than identifying the cause of the error.

The reverse position—error management—reveals errors as an inevitable phenomenon in corporate environment as it is impossible to prevent them from happening. Errors are recognized as potential resources and opportunities to enhance knowledge. They can induce complex learning processes and expand possibilities toward further development and options for action. Contrary to deficit-oriented error avoidance, the error management approach is solution oriented and reflective.

Since organizations can learn from both good and bad actions, a rethinking of these adopted settings is required and there is a need to understand and examine critical factors which support or inhibit the development of an encouraged “learning from failure culture” in an organization.

An encouraged “learning from failure culture” can be influenced by established social support and a reduction of covered up errors. Employees need to feel the social backing and integration in a valuing team to communicate errors. A constructive “learning from failure culture” means to be able to talk about mistakes, deal with them constructively, to learn from them, and, if possible, to take advantage of them. It is not about looking for someone to blame, or about remaining in the past. It is about fear reduction, security and stability, error minimization, and to build up capacity and be able to advance.

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