by Paul Matthews

The effect of a blame culture

Sadly, in many companies there is still the old-fashioned command-and-control management culture, which usually has a strong blame component. That is, if something goes wrong, managers look for someone to blame. Questions are asked such as ‘Whose fault was that?’ or ‘Who is to blame for this mess?’

The net effect is that people will be very unwilling to take any initiative at all, since if they make even a small mistake, they will get metaphorically hung at dawn. This clearly lowers motivation to do anything out of the ordinary, as the consequences are unpredictable.

Another by product of this kind of blame approach is that people will seek to hide mistakes, and of course the damage done can grow while a mistake stays hidden.

If people are unwilling to make any decisions on their own, they will need explicit delegation for every task – they will need micro-managing – and this is a huge drain on management time. They will also have low motivation to do the work involved, which again results on a huge drain on management time as you cajole and push people into compliance in order to get the work done.

The cure for micro-management

If you find that you are micro-managing people and even end up doing lots of tasks yourself, this could be because of the way you react when something goes wrong. Think back over the last few times a mistake was made by someone on your team and remember how you reacted. Now put yourself in the shoes of your team member and notice how you would feel to be on the receiving end of such behaviour.

The cure for micro-management is to trust people and have tolerance for the inevitable errors that will occur from time to time. This can seem like a tall order if a blame culture is in place. The road to a blame-free environment can be a long one as people seek to come to terms with the new way you are doing things.

The best place to start is to get the delegation right in the first place – see the Delegation topic and also the topic on Empowerment.

You then need to think carefully before you respond to the inevitable mistakes that are made. Rather than the questions that seek to find someone to blame, there are better questions to ask.

Better questions

Think about your outcome. What is it you really want to happen after a mistake is made? Ask questions such as

  • What happened?
  • How can we correct the results we got?
  • What do we want to happen instead?
  • How can we set things up so it can’t happen again?
  • What do we need to learn from this?
  • How can we improve what we do?

Questions of this type will help people look forward to doing the task right next time. And notice the use of the word ‘we’. There is no finger of blame pointing here. It is all about working together to get the tasks done.

People will respond to this, and will generally be more motivated to do the tasks and also to do them without mistakes.


Another cure for micro-management is to ensure the people on your team know what you, through their actions, are seeking to achieve. They need to know what your outcomes are. If they don’t know, and they come to a decision to do A or B, they will be unable to continue without asking you what you want them to do. If they do know, they will feel able to make a well-judged decision on which option to do. They will be able to guess which you would have chosen.

This is all part of the process of empowering people, which leads to higher levels of motivation for their job and makes life easier for you, their manager.


One of the best tools for transforming a blame culture is to adopt a coaching management style. This involves a more collaborative approach. Look at the topic on Coaching to improve your coaching skills.