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Why Teams Crash & Burn: There's Plenty of Blame to Go Around

At Medigram, we select our team intentionally with the goal of building a healthy, sustainable, and scalable organization that can execute on our values of Accountability, Integrity, Innovation, Transparency, Humility, Respect, Teamwork, and Empowerment, just as we execute on all business initiatives. Without such a commitment, we would not be able to live our values in the work we do. And if you are not living your values in every engagement with every stakeholder, internal and external, the train derails. One unhealthy value that can emerge in these cases is a culture of blame. This kind of culture is so insidious that it will undercut an organization’s ability produce which will ultimately hurt all stakeholders.

Blame is to blame. Once the blame train gets rolling, the ability to create productive work is short-circuited and eventually grinds to a halt. Producing work, and the inherent risk of failure in that endeavor, in a blame heavy culture is just not worth it. Employees hesitate, hide their work, or stop trying for fear of having a finger pointed at them. It’s human nature.

Accountability or blame? A culture of accountability is healthy. Its emphasis is grounded in learning from our mistakes and getting better. A culture of blame is about punishment, which drives away top talent; not a good retention strategy.

We can all probably name companies who have imploded for lack of cultural infrastructure and integrity; much of this stems from a lack of real humility and boards of directors confusing that with modest personal styles.

What is the biggest difference between yesterday’s monolithic applications and today’s more complex mobile, IoT, and 4th Industrial generation plays? It is the accelerating percent of work requiring collaboration, or agile methodology. The latter of which is driven by the concept of retrospective review. The idea of the “Blameless Retrospective” brings visions of S’mores by the campfire. We’re not buying that. At Medigram, we are talking about a “Blame Aware” culture instead.

It’s only human. Why are we talking about a “Blame Aware” process of reviews instead of “Blameless?" Humans are wired for blame. We didn’t make this up, it’s been scientifically proven by Dr. Brené Brown at the University of Houston. Dr. Brown explains it this way:

“Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability, by definition, is vulnerability. Blaming is corrosive in relationships. It’s simply a way we discharge anger. We spend our energy figuring out whose fault it is. It’s one of the reasons we miss opportunities for empathy, because when something happens instead of listening to the story, we’re quickly making connections in our mind to figure out whose fault it was. It gives us a sense of control.”

Pretending that we aren’t wired for blame just creates a vacuum for toxic positivity to fill. What is toxic positivity? It is a fake kumbaya where everyone pretends everything is bright and shiny all the time.

Actually delivering on business problems relies on being able to effectively problem solve as a team. To be truly effective, we have to collaborate. We know this. But in addition, we need to develop the capacity to identify when our natural tendency to apply “cause and effect” reasoning to problems (which will certainly happen) morphs into a blame reaction. This is a skill.

When something doesn’t go as planned, instead of the knee-jerk human tendency to blame, we need to take a step back and analyze its root cause. This allows for learning, which leads to continuous improvement. You really can’t run agile or DevOps without this. You can’t have a first class security program without this either.

There will be failures. How do we mitigate them? We have to create a psychologically safe place where we acknowledge that humans are wired to blame. We can own this awareness, then move forward by examining what happened, diagnose, and then solve. This is the only way we can deliver on the integrity of our promises to our constituents, including employees, customers, partners, and investors. How do you suggest taming blaming? Let us know.


Eric J. Roth is Head of Human Capital and Business Operations for Medigram. As a business oriented people leader, Eric Roth has driven rapid hiring and scaling for incredible 3x growth over two years. Further, he led people operations, systems, and compliance. Roth is committed to leveraging data and balancing it with common sense to drive successful employment and business outcomes.

Some highlights include having ensured target exit and funding events through leading people, operations, and organizational messaging; led the team to industry-wide recognition through awards by respected media.

Eric Roth is a transformational coach committed to developing people to their greatest potential. He has successfully led execution of several reorganizations and acquisitions; possesses a superb risk management record. He architected corporate philanthropic efforts, wellness initiatives, and diversity programs to optimize teamwork and community.

Eric is excited about building a radically new kind of company in Medigram, that is positioned to do what no one has been able to do. He is bringing recognized expertise to build and develop the strongest possible organization to deliver for physicians and patients.

Most recently, Eric Roth was VP of Human Resources for a leading health care SaaS analytics company, Mede/Analytics.

Prior, Eric served as Vice President, Human Resources for Edelman, Inc., the world’s foremost global PR firm, and as Regional Manager, Human Resources for Paul Hastings, LLP’s US western region and Asia offices; a leading global professional services firm specializing in employment law.

Eric specializes in attracting and retaining top talent; charting, tracking, and measuring key performance metrics; and driving the success of an organization’s most important asset, its people.

Eric earned his M.S. degree in Human Resources Management from Golden Gate University with High Honors in 2003, his B.A. degree from San Jose State University in 1994, and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources.

Out of the office, Eric enjoys time with his family and traveling.

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