Three Types of Culture


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1. Blame culture

I am not a big fan of blaming people when things go wrong.

There are two reasons why:

  • It is hard to apportion blame correctly. Business is a team sport. With so many players involved failures are rarely the fault of one person. If a goal keeper lets in a goal, was he at fault, or the defenders?
  • Apportioning blame is counterproductive. If you blame people they will hide their mistakes. If people hide their mistakes you can’t fix them.

So blaming people — no matter how deeply the need to do so is ingrained on your psyche — is invariably a complete waste of time, if not worse.  To quote my favourite guru

Hold people accountable, ridiculous ~ W. Edwards Deming

2. Blameless culture

In a blameless culture people are free of blame, fear and recriminations and can learn from their mistakes. Maybe I am naive, but wouldn’t a blameless culture be the antidote to a blame culture?  Wouldn’t it be far more productive?

Probably not. If you operate a totally blameless culture then people can (and sooner or later will) get away with murder. Sometimes you have to blame somebody for something.

A culture where people could do whatever they wanted would anarchy.  It would be every bit as toxic as one where they are scared to breath.

3. Just culture

If you want a truly productive culture you must have a culture that your employees believe is just.

In a just culture people would be ready to admit to their mistakes because they knew they would be treated justly and fairly. Circumstances would be taken into account and fair judgements would be made.

So if you want a just culture…

You have to answer a couple of questions:

  1. Who defines what is just in your organisation?
  2. Would your employees agree with them?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


  1. James, it seems to me that to have a just culture, management would have to look at all the departments and get a consensus of what your organization is trying to achieve. Not everyone will have the same ideas, but everyone should be allowed to add their particular views on how to form a just culture.
    Inevitably, management would have the final say on how to form the culture to fulfill the necessary rules for the organization, but at least everyone would have had their say on the set-up.

  2. James, sounds like a provoking text and indeed , I think there is no ultimate solution in a sense of final product. In my opinion it is about leaders who are open to feedback and truth.The leaders need to act in agile way to adpot to the situation and give to team a space where the ideas can be tested, and TRUST will grow.Then the way to behave will be replicated and rooted step by step as , eventually , model-behaviour.
    Should be simple , still not easy
    Thanks for your inspiring ideas

  3. Thanks for your comment Lisa. I wonder how different people’s views of “just” or “fair” really are. I suspect there would be a significant overlap regardless of the situation. But I suspect you are right, you will never please everybody.


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