The 13 Costs of Blame


Organizations that don’t eliminate blame right now are burning money!

That’s my conclusion from working with a bunch of organizations since 1986. In fact, The Question Behind the Question (QBQ!)—a tool for practicing PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY—was born as an antidote to blame. Only when individuals engage in accountability, responsibility, and on-the-job ownership will the very real dragons of finger-pointing, culprit-seeking, and blame be slain.

This is when organizations become … outstanding.

But why bother? Does it really matter, this blame thing?

Well, you decide after exploring our itemized list titled …

13 Costs of Blame (COB)

COB #1: Blame leaves problems unsolved. 

COB #2: Blame creates fear, hurt, and anger. 

COB #3: Blame destroys creativity, innovation, and risk-taking.

COB #4: Blame obstructs teamwork.

COB #5: Blame lowers productivity.

COB #6: Blame kills trust.

COB #7: Blame—internally—pushes “external” customers away. 

COB #8: Blame hardens positions, hindering conversation.

COB #9: Blame limits listening and hearing.

COB #10: Blame blocks learning.

COB #11: Blame encourages good people to leave.

COB #12: Blame increases resistance to change.

COB #13: Blame causes staff dis-engagement. 

(For all you execs, HR, and training people working hard to survey “employee engagement” and raise your scores, please note #13!)

And let’s add a bonus COB. If you believe happiness, joy, and positive thinking are important on the job, just think what blame and finger-pointing do to those critical components of a workplace culture. It’s not a pretty picture.

Now, a thought:

Since there is no Cost of Blame line item in our budgets, the real cost of blame is that we don’t know its real cost—financially.

What do you think the items on our COB list would cost an organization in dollars?

Maybe this is where I say just take it from a guy who’s been around a while, letting blame persist in your organization is like burning cash.

And, bottom line, who would want to do that?!


Can you add to our list?

Which of our COBs above is your organization experiencing right now?

What do you plan to do about it?

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39 Responses

  1. Totally agree. I think you pretty much sum it up, but I’d add that Blame eventually crushes employee confidence and creates a culture of cynicism and paranoia (might be an extension of #6).

  2. Realize when I point one finger I have 3 pointing right back at me. Trying to cultivate a habit of asking “What can we learn from this to improve our processes so we don’t miss the mark the next time?” vs. “Who’s fault was that?”. The discussions and the outcome are very different.

  3. I think your list is pretty complete…great job, as always!

    Right now, our organization is a period of expansion. This expansion has lead to stress. We are experiencing #3 (obstruction of teamwork), #5 (decreased productivity) and #12 (resistance to change).

    Now for the fun part of your question…what do I plan to do about it? Isn’t that always the fun part…figuring out how to correct the challenge? I need to start making more time for my managers….more time listening to their concerns and addressing them WITH them. Show them that I have their backs and that we can make it through this together. I have to find time in my day to ask “how can I support you?” Then, I have to listen to their answers and give them the support they need to succeed. By doing this, I can help to create teamwork, which will increase productivity, and show them change isn’t always bad!

  4. I totally agree with your list. I have seen the blame game take an issue from bad to worse. This is why I work with my children to understand how important being personally accountalbe is.

  5. Great COB’s 🙂 I would add:
    Blame – wastes time and time is money as they say…

    Will be printing this list and hanging it in our home office. We (my husband and I) are becoming more efficient and effective ever since we read your book and started to follow the QBQ way. Thank you!

  6. John, another COB to consider. Blame discourages good people from joining your organization.

    Look at our dysfunctional Government. What good person would want to join it at any level? They’re constantly playing the “blame game”. Sign at the door should be: Problem solvers not welcome!

  7. I agree, BLAME wastes time and money. How much time is spent covering your backside when working in a Blame Game environment? And then backtracking to make sure you won’t be the one the blame falls to. Waste * of * TIME! Attempting to mentor in this environment is virtually impossible.

  8. Often our Employees blame their lack of career growth on the company or their Manager. I say, Own Your Career, and you will see real growth

  9. The organization I work for has experienced 1-13. 🙁 It’s a very divided atmosphere-each segment suspicious of the others’ motives and quick to blame. We have wonderful people who work here; I’d like to see them happier at work.
    I try not to judge others’ feelings, so I work to change my own blaming habits as much as possible, stay away from the drama, and engage in positive conversations about the environment as much as possible. But as far as contributing to the environment as a whole… I have no idea what to do.

    1. I work with an individual who is the consummate victim. It is always the fault of another employee, coworker, the printer, the way the document was put together, the weather, etc. Something or someone else is always to blame. It is exhausting.

  10. Well said. I had the honor to attend your seminar in Santa Fe and to this day I still refer to your book and my neon sheet.

  11. The corrolaries to the 13 listed above are walls and passive aggressive behaviors. When there is blame, there is an undercurrent of missing conversations.

  12. #13 is one I’m trying to navigate around as I help to coach one of my supervisors to coach his team member to take responsibility for having a positive attitude and for completing work in full. We want this employee to remain engaged in the company. It’s essential that we work with him to understand his vital role in the team.

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