Fault Lines

When you encounter a problem, how important is it to you to establish fault?

For instance, if you are walking down the street and you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk, do you ask of anyone nearby whether it’s theirs? How about if you’re at home and someone leaves a piece of trash on the floor? Do you act differently in one place versus another? Why?

If you are at work and a problem arises, do you first establish who’s to blame, or do you first fix the problem?

There are good reasons for establishing who’s at fault when things go wrong.

  1. If the same person makes the same mistake repeatedly, they should either be educated (if they don’t realize they’re doing the wrong thing) or fired (if they do, but they don’t care).
  2. If many people are making the same mistake, your policies should either be more widely known or changed.
  3. If the mistake is something that only a single person can undo, such as an incorrectly sent email.

There is one very good reason to avoid establishing fault. It’s no use if the only reason you’re establishing fault is to cover your own ass. Sadly, though, this seems to me to be the number one reason that anyone bothers to get to the bottom of any problem.

All of this is really just me thinking hard about a current situation where something has gone wrong, and I’m searching for the person responsible. I’m trying to drill down and question my own motives because I don’t want this to turn into something negative, when I know that it doesn’t have to be. If handled properly, this could be a great learning experience for everyone involved.

Let’s see if I’m that good.