The New Mindset
By: Ethan Schutz
It should have been pretty straightforward. The team was putting together a roll out plan for a new product. The team had done this before a few times for other products and they had their previous work to draw upon. The team needed to put together a draft, review it, make any changes that were specific to the new product, and then submit it to the boss. After two weeks, the boss had heard nothing and hadn’t seen a draft. Asking the lead person, she heard, “yeah, I’m waiting to hear back from the financial person.” Speaking to the financial person, the boss heard, “I haven’t received it yet.” And, talking to the third party involved who was supposed to review from a sales perspective she heard, “I don’t know why it’s taking so long to get it to me. I’m ready to go.” Without being overt, each person was blaming the others for the lack of teamwork. The result was several weeks wasted and still no work product.
The Blame Mindset
For many of us our work life mindset is one of blame. Often, we don’t realize this because we don’t say it out loud. However, many of us assign blame to others in our own minds and then go to great lengths to state things in such a way as they sound “professional”. Yet, even when couched this way, blame is still blame. The other parties hear it, the boss sees it, and work suffers as a result. The old mindset:
Be careful. Make sure you can’t be blamed if something goes wrong.
The New Mindset
Work life changes when we change our mindset. However, it is not always obvious what a new, productive mindset really looks like. From our experience it is important to have a mindset that eliminates blame. A new mindset:
In all situations, each and every person is 100% responsible for the situation and no one is to blame.
What does that mean?
“Every person is 100% responsible” means that each one of us is fully responsible for everything that we do and choose not to do, as well as everything we say and choose not to say. This is not blaming. Instead, this is simply being aware that every single one of us is choosing our behavior at every moment and in any group of people. If we look for the ways in which we can solve problems and move work forward, we increase our chances of being productive, efficient, and successful.
Because each one of us is fully responsible for our own behavior, it means that we are all contributing to the situation as it is, no matter what situation we have. If any one person were to change what they are doing, the situation becomes something else. Instead of blaming other people for our fate, this reorients each and every person’s search for solutions.
Taking 100% responsibility is not the same as saying we will accept attacks from other people or take on responsibility for actions that we did not do. It is neither self-blame nor self-protection. It is also not looking to pin accountability and blame others. Rather, taking 100% responsibility means continually looking for the ways in which we are contributing to what is happening and how each of us can contribute to solutions. In this way, we keep relentlessly focused on moving toward our goals and viewing obstacles simply as problems to be solved together.
No one is to blame
At first, the idea that no one is to blame can sound idealistic or even foolish. After all, we are human; we make mistakes and do bad things at times. But blame doesn’t solve problems. Notice how much emphasis is put on assigning blame in the world and how little it resolves anything. The news is full of reports of terrible things happening with much of the emphasis on who is the responsible—blamed—party. In our organizations, “accountability” is often a euphemism for who will be blamed if something goes wrong. All this blame demonstrates where we put our time and energy, which could otherwise be put toward productive use.
Cultivating the new mindset pushes teams to work together for real and brings out the best and most accountable versions of each person.
When the team started to get real and adopted this new mindset, work proceeded in a very different way. In a quick discussion, each person stated how they contributed to the current outcome. The common theme was that they had each contributed by not initiating or reaching out or taking responsibility for the overall project. Even though one person ultimately had the responsibility, everyone recognized and stated that they were responsible for making sure everything happened. Once that was out on the table, they were able to get to the work very quickly. Within one hour, they had sent the document to each other and provided edits and feedback. The person responsible was then able to put everything everyone had given together within another half hour and send the draft to the boss for review.
From the boss’s perspective the most notable thing was that there was nothing to see. The work simply got done. In other words, when people are solving problems and taking responsibility, the blaming and delays simply disappear.
Cultivating a new mindset can take work and time. It doesn’t happen simply by telling people to change their mindset. Rather, deeper work and attention to forming new habits is important.