Sweden halved the number of avoidable birth injuries in hospitals after it introduced a no blame compensation scheme for injuries sustained as a result of medical treatment. The result was hospital staff felt able to speak openly when things went wrong. Lessons were learnt from mistakes and changes were made.
Most organisations would claim to aspire to a no blame culture, acknowledging the benefits whilst recognising they have some way to go. In practice most organisations or their senior managers don’t realise how far they have to go until something really bad happens and they are forced to look at why problems weren’t identified earlier, why individuals who raised concerns weren’t listened to and why so many opportunities to put things right were missed.
A no blame culture isn’t simply resisting the temptation to dismiss a key figure if something goes wrong. It’s about how mistakes are viewed. It’s the extent to which managers work to identify problems at an early stage, it’s managers receptiveness to concerns about how things are working, it’s the willingness of professionals/senior managers/the board to accept that they got it wrong, their assumptions were incorrect, their orthodoxy no longer applies.
The tone will be set from the top but how managers at every tier contribute to the culture. In a no blame culture the organisation is characterised by cooperation between operations and support services as opposed to conflict and power struggles. In a no blame culture senior managers feel more able to ask for help and support from colleagues secure in the knowledge that this will not be seen as a weakness or their inability to cope.
Practical assistance at an early stage, may be something as simple as a temporary transfer of resources or secondment of someone with particular skills, may enable the problem to be addressed before it becomes a crisis. It is no great insight to point out that where a blame culture is in operation so are dysfunctional teams.
Don’t wait for the shit to hit the fan, encourage employees to speak up when things go wrong, accept mistakes happen and remember what counts is that they are not repeated due to a culture of shifting the blame and secrecy.