We are wired, it seems, to assign blame when something has gone wrong, there is conflict in the workplace or groups are not getting along with one another. After all, someone is responsible and must take the blame!
Not so fast. I would ask two questions.
Question One: Are there alternative explanations for what has gone wrong or the conflict we are experiencing? In most cases the answer is yes. Conflict can arise from many organizational issues: unclear job descriptions and overlap of responsibilities; the wiring of the people involved; organizational systems that create conflict, attitudes of individuals or groups, practices of the organization and I could go on.
Blame is easy and often wrong.
Too often, we immediately assign poor motives to those we are unhappy with. In most cases, motives are not the issue. We are also prone to demonize those we feel are responsible (in our minds) for the conflict. This is a dangerous practice as it simply divides further and reinforces our belief that we are right and others are wrong.
In most cases when there is organizational conflict, there are reasons for that conflict that lie in the structure of the organization, its processes or a lack of organizational clarity. Before we play the blame game - which is inherently counter productive, ask yourself if there are alternate explanations for the conflict your are experiencing.
Question two: Are we more interested in assigning blame or in learning from the situation we find ourselves in? Blame is easy. It absolves us and points the finger at someone else. We don't need to do any hard analysis or work and it is not about us. In fact, blame is so easy that it prevents us from finding the real source of the conflict we are experiencing and therefor perpetuates the conflict.
We can blame or we can learn. Blame perpetuates the status quo while learning makes us better. I recommend a culture that practices autopsy without blame when something goes south. We want to know the source of the problem or failure but we want to learn from it, not assign blame to someone.
This kind of attitude creates a culture of nothing to prove, nothing to lose and nothing to hide. We are about getting better. Not protecting ourselves, not trying to prove anything or hide anything. It is a posture of humility rather than pride. Of learning rather than blame.
In my consulting I have rarely encountered people who were bad people or who had bad motives. I have encountered people who needed to learn and develop, who were in the wrong seat for their wiring and have seen many organizational issues, all of which can create conflict. Sometimes hard things need to be said or done but with the right attitude we can learn, develop and appreciate one another.