The blame game

Something doesn’t go according to plan. Something goes horribly wrong. A strategy doesn’t play out as hoped.

Business as usual in many startup situations. What happens next is decisive.

Ideally the team and the board are interested in getting to the depth of what really happened, what the real problem is and how as a team we can fix the issue.

Sometimes what happens next though is – as a pure knee-jerk reaction –  the blame game, “She / he really blew it”, etc. Firing, demoting, etc. come up as options quickly.

This is easy to do – it requires hardly any thinking and effort to analyse what really happened; and therefore is so tempting. Also blaming, firing someone (say a head of sales due to revenues not growing as expected) is a lot easier than to fundamentally question the value proposition of a product (and therefore often the entire company), etc.

Don’t get me wrong – often issues can be tied to a role or a person and changes must be made. That is always an option and must be considered.

But when you are foaming at the mouth in anger, looking for someone to blame, you may be missing an opportunity to find out what is really going on.


  • P. Moehring

    There is one person who is responsible for stopping this game at the board level – the CEO. A good CEO will know what went wrong, will be able to communicate openly with his team, and should be able to fix the situation by making the appropriate changes.

    If the CEO lets the board play the blame game, and then uses the “the board said I need to fire you” card, bad things happen. Because the “board” card is the get out of jail card that you can only play once and gives away your train station ownership.

    • Ciarán O’Leary


  • Caroline Drucker

    The article I have probably shared more than any other in the past few years is “Blameless PostMortems and a Just Culture” It’s a must for anyone considering how their org approaches problem solving.

    • Ciarán O’Leary

      Thank you Caroline I am going to read that. I think aviation has a great system where the attitude is (in general) – “hey let’s all learn from this so it doesn’t happen again” vs creating a culture of fear where mistakes will be repeated. They have some cool systems in place for that.

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