Get bogged down in collaboration and problem-solving, not finger-pointing

This weekend I learnt some fun facts whilst taking a tour through glow worm caves.  The tour guide had an abundance of knowledge on the topic of environmental science.  The guide explained that when food is scarce and the glow worms are too close together, they cannibalise each other.  The guide then compared the glow worms’ cannibalism with sand tiger sharks.  He shared the very intriguing but ever so disturbing fact that sand tiger shark embryos eat their siblings in the womb.

I had to find out a little more about this freaky fact.  I read National Geographic’ article Cannibal sharks eat their siblings in the womb, referencing a new study.  The study revealed that crowded conditions in the womb was not the reason for the sand tiger shark embryo cannibalising on its siblings (as previously thought).  In fact, the reason was evolutionary strategy.

“Unborn sand tiger sharks must fight with each other for survival, with one winner eventually eating its siblings.  This cannibal not only eats its brothers and sisters, but also any unfertilised eggs in the womb.” – National Geographic

Even more disturbing than this freaky fact was that it reminded me of blame cultures in organisations.  Whilst reading the article, it took me back to a situation with a client.  The client had engaged me to assist with a major non-compliance matter, in which we had limited time to rectify the issue.  I walked into the project room, it immediately became apparent that the blame game was in full force with this project team.  Each person was blaming someone else for the non-compliance.  Fingers were being pointed everywhere – internally, and externally.

The project team were so bogged down in the who did what, they wasted so much finger pointing to protect ego.  My time was spent on redirecting the team, getting them to focus on the solution rather spending time on the why.  This was a difficult task as the game of blame had already been played and caused destruction.  The blame game impacted each member of project team member, as a result;

  • it hindered collaboration,
  • created a vicious cycle of finger pointing; and
  • significantly impacted problem solving and productivity

The project teams’ response to the non-compliance reflected the scene from a YouTube video of sand tiger shark locked in deadly battle with its siblings in the womb.  Whilst the project team were not physically destroying each other, there was an unhealthy psychological competition at play.  They were blaming each other for the situation.  Each project team member did not want the non-compliance linked to them.  This was a process of self-preservation and survival within the womb that was their work environment.

Creating awareness on how the organisation and individuals assign and react to blame can take your workplace culture from drowning or just surviving to absolutely thriving.

Resetting the way blame is assigned in your organisation will positively impact relationships, team dynamics, collaboration, problem-solving and productivity.


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Amy Towers is obsessed with setting you free when it comes to your work health and safety obligations. A risk expert with more than 10 years’ experience working as a Health and Safety Specialist and Consultant, Amy enjoys solving complex business problems and is truly passionate about guiding, directing and protecting you and your business against health and safety risks.

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