Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A culture challenge

A comment on my previous post reads:

I'm currently in one of those places where finger pointing and politics are the norm (at higher levels - my team itself is great). While proactively accepting blame might sound like a great & noble thing to do, that's like voluntarily putting your head on the chopping block when no one is even asking that of you. Not gonna happen! We just talk amongst ourselves about what we can do better next time.

I felt that I needed a whole post to respond to this one, because it really made me wonder.

Where do you think culture comes from?

If you're in an organisation where finger pointing and politics are the norm, then ask yourself why that is. Try walking in the shoes of the person who is behaving in this way. Imagine being in a management position with responsibilities that straddle a number of teams; you try to manage risk, ensure that mistakes aren't repeated, and report on your department to higher levels of the organisation.

Now imagine that the teams you are responsible for are insular. That they talk amongst themselves, but they won't tell you anything. You know that anything you do hear is only part of the story. What do you do? Without accurate and complete information you cannot do your job.

Finger pointing happens when your manager is frustrated. When there is an endemic lack of ownership, finger pointing feels like the only way to assign and action improvement. I believe that finger pointing is not a reflection on your manager, it's a reflection of your behaviour as a team.

Who do you think changes your culture?

A manager is not going to change their approach when it feels as though a witch-hunt is the only way to find out what is going on. If you want to stop being persecuted, start taking responsibility for failures and communicating the things that you plan to improve as a result. Own it. Take away the reason that they behave the way that they do.

It's scary to be the first person to stick your neck out. I don't deny that. But if you want to build a relationship of trust, then you have to act like someone who can be trusted. The culture of an organisation is the result of the behaviour of every individual in it. If you want to see change, you have to make it.

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