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Pattern: Blameless Inquiry

When a problem occurs, focusing on the event instead of the people involved allows them to learn from mistakes without fear of punishment

A company is proficiently delivering existing products or services while investing some resources into continued innovation. There is a lot of uncertainty, and experimentation is required for figuring out the tech and exploring new business opportunities. Naturally, many of the experiments lead to dead ends.

In This Context

When no inquiry is done after a problem occurs or an experiment fails, the team doesn’t improve and is likely to keep making similar mistakes. In many organizations,fault-seeking occurs, and blame gets assigned to anyone involved with a problem. This leads to mediocre performance, since most innovative actions carry significant risk.
• Once punished for failure people tend to avoid risks.
• Waterfall organizations tend to punish teams or individuals associated with problematic events to ensure stability; novelty is discouraged.
• There is no innovation without risk.

Therefore

Understand what went wrong by focusing on the problem instead of the peopleinvolved.Talk about what went wrong and why, and how to avoid it in the future. Don’t punish people for mistakes—encourage them to learn from the experience instead. This creates the psychological safety required for taking risks.
• Gather everyone involved and review what happened.
• Share the results with the rest of the team.
• Find possible solutions for avoiding similar problems in the future.
• Focus on the problem, not the people: don’t ask who did what and never assign blame.
• If some mistakes occur repeatedly, find out who is involved and introduce personal commitment/responsibility.

Consequently

People have the autonomy and the confidence to try and fail, and try again.
+ Teams are always improving by learning how to find and avoid repeated mistakes.
+ Progress happens faster since people don’t waste time and effort trying to find a solution that is “guaranteed to work” before they even risk trying it.
- If there are no consequences for failure, some people may fail due to not taking personal responsibility for solving problems as they arise.