My current pair Dan and I got into a discussion about blame cultures. He told me about a meeting he was once in, in which the boss said, “We don’t want to start a blame culture.”
“Yes,” said another employee, “but it’s better than having a Teflon culture.” Dan told me that he’d worked in one place where a few employees had managed to mess things up, resulting in the project’s failure and the whole company going down the pan.
I reckon this is because some of them still had a bit of a blame culture, or at least a blame culture mentality. Blame cultures stop people communicating to one another. They stop people wanting to be involved, make people hold onto knowledge instead of sharing it (since being the only person with important knowledge prevents you from being fired) and cause people to avow responsibility for anything. The few people who do want to get involved and take responsibility invariably end up with all the blame and none of the appreciation. It’s happened to me.
“So what’s the alternative,” Dan mused, “when a few people can’t be bothered, or make mistakes? Where does the buck stop? How do you ask them, ‘Why haven’t you done this yet? Why’s this not working?'”
“You don’t,” I said. “You ask them, ‘Can I help you with that?’ It’s your project; it’s your responsibility too.”
“But how do you know when people need help?” Dan asked.
I shrugged. “Dunno. Everyone on this project just assumed I could use the help when I started. As a result, I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it.”
So I’m learning things, and getting better, and I’m not afraid to start seemingly impossible tasks because I know that someone round here will help me and share their knowledge. Maybe there are people on projects who simply aren’t as good as others. A blame culture won’t help with that. People who aren’t good at their job are sometimes very good at hiding it.
I believe that sharing responsibility and communication is the best way to make good use of everyone, and find out how good people really are. It’s not an invasion of your privacy. Don’t think about it as “If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to hide*“. Think about it as “Everyone has something they can teach you – and you, too, have something you can teach.” Have courage. Be motivated. Take responsibility, and let other people see you enjoying it. Let people know that they can come to you for help without fear of blame. The worst thing that can happen is that you may find yourself in need of a new job. If it comes to that, you probably deserve one**. I did.
* The ID card scheme is, IMHO, another kind of blame culture.