Over the years I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects and seen many times when things haven’t gone well. At times the problems were due to unexpected issues, other times they were due to things that were overlooked. There were even a few times when gaps were identified before they could wreck disaster on the project. Unfortunately too often people get caught up in the blame game; before, during or after a problem occurs.
On one project a problem was found prior to the deadline and the root cause was a found to be a system design flaw. Unfortunately the flaw was found right before our deadline so all we could do was implement a work-around initially. Since the flaw didn’t impact the primary process it was missed because not all the processes that used this part of the system were mapped. A couple of weeks before the deadline the gaps were found and the scrambling began.
At first there were a bunch of meetings about how this got missed and who was at fault. Fingers were pointed and blame was placed. This led the people who were blamed to spend time explaining how it wasn’t their fault and that they did their best. We lost a week or more to these pointless conversations. Negativity and defeat were prevalent. Finally the emotions calmed enough for the team to focus on what needed to happen to meet our deadline. In a few days we were able to identify fixes for all the gaps once the focus shifted to where we needed to go. Sadly even as we started making progress a few folks would start to vent their frustration that these issues were identified sooner. Negativity would start creeping in again.
Our project manager had to keep reminding everyone on the target – a successful implementation on our deadline. Keeping the team looking forward and focused on the key tasks at hand was critical to our eventual success. He set short-term and long-term priorities and kept us focused on what had to happen next and who could get it done. He shut down the negative talk and kept us looking at the end goal. As we came together to find solutions to the gaps we moved past the negativity and started to find the positive in an ugly situation.
We were able to be succeeded by following these three strategies:
- Shift the Focus: When you are looking at the problems all you see are problems. As you start to focus on possible solutions it becomes easier to find the positive in the situation. Success breeds success.
- Worry about Blame Later: It is important to determine what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future but solve the problems first. Once the issues are resolved everyone can learn from looking at what could be done better in the future.
- Check Emotions at the Door: In the heat of the moment it’s easy to let our emotions get away from us. When that happens, anger and frustration can take the lead side tracking progress and causing people to shut down. Keep things focused on fixing the problems and not fixing people.
Problems during projects are inevitable; however handling them well is possible. It requires the right focus and the skills to manage people well. When a team hits a challenge, the more time they spend on placing blame the longer it will take to get to a satisfactory solution. Identify the source, focus on the fixes and then worry about the lessons to be learned. Taking valuable time to find someone to blame is futile and counterproductive. Solutions aren’t found and people become defensive, overall the entire team can get stuck. Focus on moving forward and setting a positive tone. The results from your team will be astounding.
What tips do you have for overcoming the blame game to move forward to success?