Creating a “No Blame” Culture to Unlock New Innovation

February 8, 2023

In the high-stakes world of finance, tiny mistakes can have devastating impacts. It is hazardous to operate in an environment where employees do not feel confident (safe) to report errors or raise concerns. 

“If you have a team where people feel afraid to make mistakes, or afraid to try for fear of how they might be viewed or, even worse, whether they keep their job, those things promote a culture of conservatism in design and approach to problems” Mercedes F1 Team chief designer John Owens 

Culture is everything. In a “no blame” setting, team members are willing to openly communicate risks and opportunities, they are more likely to experiment uncovering new possibilities and they will work closely together to recover when there is an issue. 

TEAM ~ Together Everyone Achieves More. 

High-performing teams thrive in a “no blame” culture. There is no one way to create such a culture, and it cannot happen overnight. A no-blame culture is built over time by team members and executives alike. 

Creating a “no blame” culture

The path will be different for every organization. Here are the four key pillars followed by some tactics that have worked well at Broadcom.

Pillar #1: Historically, blaming someone else gives the person who is doing the blaming a position of power. In a “no blame” culture, the one doing the blaming is systematically coached to stop that behavior. Blaming is not considered a strength, it is a weakness. Leaders with the tendency to blame, are encouraged to take a look in the mirror to understand what drives them to blame others, to truly see the impacts of their behavior, and work on resolving that driver.

Pillar #2: Leadership never blames an individual or calls someone out publicly. If there is a failure, it’s a team, there are many people involved and many parts. No one person could have caused the failure, anyone on the team could have caught it and raised awareness. 

Pillar #3: Make a clear distinction between blame and accountability. Blame is to assign responsibility for a fault or wrong. While accountability is the obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions. Accountable team members willingly assume ownership, they identify and communicate problems with transparency and they are willing to take action to solve problems. The objective is for team members to hold themselves accountable for the organization's goals and success. 

Pillar #4: View every mistake as an opportunity and celebrate the learning that comes from each opportunity. Being willing to share what happened and what was learned enables overall organizational growth. When the opportunities arise, assume you do not have all the facts at the start, always pursue the facts, work with the facts and minimize emotion while logically seeking root understanding. 

Make Time to Experiment

At Broadcom we are continuously in pursuit of the “no blame” culture. We leverage the pillars, and we experiment with different tactics to create a positive culture for our teams and for ourselves. Here are a few of the different approaches we have tried. 

We have implemented a technical team lead (TTL) who also manages a few people on the team. The TTLs are fresh, (new to management) and, at a minimum, continue to do 50% technical work. Our observation is that the technical team members are able to look at a process being rolled out and articulate the impact to the team and themselves personally. Should a TTL suggest that a process is too cumbersome, we will pause, review and pivot if necessary to minimize the impact to the teams. TTLs, being technical, know how they would like to be treated. They want a voice and they want to contribute. Hence, TTLs are hypersensitive to enabling others on their teams to do the same. The introduction of TTLs was novel and their contributions are creative and impactful.  

We continuously coach our teams to experiment. We want our team members to learn and share what they learn, which includes reaching out to executives and asking where they should go next when direction is needed. Most often, executives genuinely appreciate being asked and eagerly provide suggestions. More recently, we have encouraged team members to also make recommendations based on what they have learned or experienced; making them the owner, and accountable. Of course, further suggestion or refinement is always welcomed. It is quite empowering to set the direction and then drive towards it, rather than being told where to go. 

Sometimes we experiment and, well, the results are unexpected. To enable more team members time with the executive team to grow (accelerate) their experience, a series of reviews across multiple domains were established. The intention was good … to align and accelerate. What resulted was team members feeling stressed and anxious, like they always had to be “on” - which led to burnout. Worse, team members learned to present to certain executives in the style they thought the executive would appreciate, but felt they could not be themselves. Upon learning the impacts, we changed the dynamics to be working sessions with open conversation rather than a continuous stream of presentations. The working sessions encourage people to share their experiences. The initiator of the conversation approaches each session knowing they do not have all the information, and that’s ok! The goal is to gain insights and momentum as a team. 

We inspect and adapt often in all areas of our business. The key is to always be asking questions and looking for root understanding. As an example, we monitor the number of automated test cases, code coverage, and functional coverage. During one review it was noticed that one team had relatively low functional coverage. It had been almost 2 years of investing in automated test cases, so the question was … what is in the way of making progress? The team responded that two major capabilities were being rewritten, and rather than invest in automation of the old method they made a conscious decision to create the test automation on the new version as it was being developed. We were still seeing the old data because the new capabilities are not generally available yet. After the end of service of the old capabilities, the test coverage was quite impressive. You can imagine that in years past this conversation may have been loaded with passion - perhaps yelling, or the team would not have enabled the visibility into the metrics to avoid the conversation altogether. 

We actively encourage team members to raise awareness of issues so that we can make the best business decisions. If there is a delay in R&D (or UX, Architecture, Product Management), early identification allows us to make a decision to accelerate resolution by finding another path, augmenting the team, or accepting that something will not be completed in the timeframe initially planned. Such conversations are welcomed, encouraged, and the sooner the insights are shared the better decisions we are able to make. 

If you want to create higher-performing teams, start experimenting with how you can create a “no blame” culture. As team members embrace the “no blame” culture you will see transparency coupled with new innovative ways to solve problems surfacing on a regular basis. 

If you’d like to discuss how to create higher-performing teams more, please contact me directly at



Tag(s): AIOps, Mainframe