I hate blame cultures. If you hate them too, then you don’t need me to tell you why. If you don’t, you probably haven’t worked in one yet.
At one client, they have a strong dislike for blame cultures. Unfortunately, most of the development team have worked in one at some point or another, and it’s hard to get out of certain habits.
“Ah, it’s all right,” one developer said, looking at a bug. “It’s not our fault.”
“I’ve been learning a bit of NLP,” I said, “and it suggests that the words we use can sometimes affect the way we think. I know that you’re not really thinking about blame when you use those words. Even so, can we avoid them? Could you maybe ask the question, Who’s the best person to fix this? instead of Whose fault is it?”
“All right. I’m still not the best person to fix this, though.”
“Well, who is?”
“I think George broke the build. I mean, George is the best person to fix it.” The developer called across, “George, can you look at the build a sec and see if you could fix it, please?”
“Oops!” said George. “I’m on it.”
So he fixed the build, and the team started working. A while later, one of the QAs called me over. “Liz, I’m looking at this bug… did your team cause it?”
I shook my head. “It looks like the database might be down.”
“Oh,” the QA said sadly. “I can’t blame you, then.”
I winced. “Why do you need to know whose fault it was?” I asked.
“So I know who to assign it to.”
So I explained about the new words we were trying to use instead of “blame” and “fault”.
“Oh!” she brightened up. “Well, are you able to help me fix it, then?”
“Maybe one of my team can help. Hold on!” So I asked around. “Who’s the best person to kick Mary’s database? It looks as if it’s fallen over.”
“I can do that!” Fred announced.
It occurred to me at that point that, if we were still asking, “Whose fault is this?” then Fred would be reluctant to help out, because it would insinuate that it was somehow his fault. By avoiding the words and asking, “Who’s the best person to fix this?” anyone can volunteer.
Suddenly, by providing an alternative to “fault” and “blame”, we’ve made it OK for people to volunteer to contribute. That can only be a good thing.