Blame me… maybe that wasn't a good idea

Whenever I’ve moved on from a job, I’ve always told the team I was leaving to blame me for the wrongs when I was gone to move past the blame game quickly, and focus on solving the issue. A piece of an awesome Fast company article on Toyota’s continuous process improvement way of life made me think that’s not such a good idea… because it let’s people continue the idea that blame (or shame) is a natural part of a work environment. Here’s the story in brief:

Jim Wiseman joins Toyota in community relations. In his first presentation to the plant manager, he spoke about how well things were going. When Jim finished, the manager, Fujio Cho, now chairman of Toyota worldwide, said, “Jim-san. We all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on them together.”

This reminded me of one of my absolute favorite work environments, when I was working for Lorrie Norrington at Intuit. She was SVP of Small Business and Personal Finance at the time, and was one of the three board members, who directed the Innovation Lab I ran. What was remarkable to me about working for Lorrie was that in any meeting, she focused on what was wrong. But, not in a negative “what did you do wrong” way, rather in a moving forward way. She was focused on solving together piece, and never made you feel like she was stepping in because you couldn’t handle it. I have a feeling this is what the folks at Toyota feel like… and it feels productive!

I need some techniques for setting that environment up correctly, because, as recently as this week, I’ve unintentionally put people on the defensive about what was done when I wanted the focus to be on moving forward. It wasn’t productive. Have you worked in an environment where the focus was deeply focused on the problems, but it wasn’t about blame or shame? If so, how did you, your manager, or your team set the tone for this?

I think what would go on my shirt for this:

Learn from history, but don’t relive it

I need to learn from you and your experiences here, as it is core to the way I want to run my businesses, and it is one where I don’t have a “doing business as Jana” way of doing things that I’m comfortabe with. So, what is your “doing business as you” on this topic? Or what are the experiences you’ve had?

3 thoughts on “Blame me… maybe that wasn't a good idea

  1. Joni says:

    (I know this is a late reply to your post but I didn’t have much time for leisure reading during the holiday.) When I first read this, I was reflecting on my work experiences to come up with an example of an effective way to set the tone for focusing on problems without blame or shame. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any. But, as I was brushing my teeth this morning, I thought of a strategy that I learned during my undergraduate studies in psychology. The concept comes from the exercise of group therapy. This may sound bizarre but I think the same concept could be applied to a business meeting. The focus is not actually on problems but rather on solutions. Everyone takes a few moments to think about what they feel is the most significant example of a situation that should have been handled differently. Each person takes a turn to talk about their example and their proposed solution or how the situation could have been better handled. Each member of the group also gets a turn to provide feedback.

    This approach can be very productive because the discussion follows a specific format which keeps people focused. It also requires that everyone share in the discussion which will prevent any one person from dominating the conversation as well as force a reserved person to speak their thoughts.

    I am a strong believer in the power of communication. If you can communicate, you can work together.

  2. Jana Eggers says:

    Joni… the most significant example is a great idea… staying focused, concrete and collaborative.

    Kevin… great saying… that should be on a shirt!

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