business people at a meeting passing blame

When we begin implementing EOS with a company, we always ask the leaders to commit fully to the journey ahead – the journey to become their very best as a leadership team. One of the specific things that requires is to take responsibility for everything that you and your fellow leaders have created in your organization. Like a lot of things in EOS, that sounds easy – but it’s hard and very rare.

What we’re talking about is avoiding the blame game, which is so common in lean, fast-moving organizations. Most readers of this blog know the feeling well – you’re sailing along, growing and prospering, and then all of a sudden you hit the ceiling. You’re stuck or derailed by a major problem, or by hundreds of little ones. It’s frustrating and scary – and when you’re frustrated and scared your emotions can get the better of you.

You’re Responsible for Your Whole Business

What a great leader and healthy team will do in this situation is pause, circle the wagons, and work together to find and resolve the root cause (or causes) of being stuck. Taking responsibility means we share credit and blame for everything that exists in our business – good, bad and ugly. When something is bad or ugly, we agree to own it as a team, and work together to fix it.

Less effective leaders start a witch-hunt – looking for someone to blame for what’s wrong and to burn at the stake. Of course I’m embellishing for effect – these blame games aren’t normally as blatant and obvious as a real witch-hunt. But I have been surprised by how much time and energy lots of otherwise healthy teams seem to waste on finger-pointing, denial of responsibility, and avoidance of the real root cause(s) of their issues.

The Fallout of Finger-pointing

Whether subtle or obvious, this type of culture can kill your business in many ways. Here are a few:

  1. You can create a “don’t shoot the messenger” culture where people are afraid to let you know when there’s an issue that requires your attention.
  2. You can destroy the vulnerability-based trust that’s required for your leadership team to operate as a real team, focused on the collective results of the organization rather than their own wellbeing.
  3. You’ll likely make more knee-jerk, emotional decisions based on your own hunches. That may treat a symptom and temporarily relieve your pain, but it won’t solve the issue at its root.
  4. Your best leaders and employees – those who truly want to help you achieve your vision – may leave. These people need to feel a part of the team, and a part of the solution – especially when the going gets tough.

Steps to Take Responsibility

If any of this sounds eerily familiar to you, you’re not alone. All organizations get stuck from time to time, and most entrepreneurs are no strangers to occasional bouts of frustration and anger. It’s okay to feel those things – it’s just not healthy to let those strong feelings cloud your judgment and hurt the people you rely on most. If you’re struggling with this now, or do so in the future – consider taking these steps:

  • Own it. You built this company and assembled this team, so take a deep breath and accept personal responsibility for what’s not working, and for what needs to be done to fix it.
  • Assemble your team, share your concerns, and invite them to own it with you. Stay calm, rational, and focused on a solution, not on finding a scapegoat.
  • Consider using IDS to resolve the issue for the long-term, greater good of the organization:
    • Identify the root cause (or causes) of your issue. Gather everyone’s perspectives and take your time. When the root cause is clear…
    • Discuss the issue briefly, with no politicking. What are we going to do to make the issue go away forever? Again, hear from everyone who has something to contribute, and then drive to…
    • Solve the issue by agreeing on a plan of attack you and your team believe will make the issue – at its root – go away forever. Make sure any action steps are recorded and owned by a single member of your team, and check back to ensure follow-through.

Every company, every team, and every leader gets stuck from time to time. When it happens, you have a choice to make. You can lead with anger, frustration and blame – or you can take responsibility, work with your team, and resolve the issue together. Please choose wisely.