We hear a lot about the importance of a "no-blame culture" in Lesson-learning, but a no-blame culture won't work unless you have no-blame processes as well.
Learning lessons in an organisation requires a culture of openness, so that people are willing to explore honestly and openly what happened, and what might be learned. This is particularly important when learning from projects or incidents where things have gone wrong and where mistakes have been made. If people feel they are likely to blamed for the mistakes, and that their career or reputation might suffer as a result, they are unlikely to discuss the issue openly.
When we discuss the topic of lesson-learning with clients, we often hear the concern that lesson-learning meetings could be seen as "witch-hunts" - in other words, a search for someone to blame. To reassure them, we talk them through the lesson-learning process we use; the Retrospect.
The Retrospect is an externally-facilitated team meeting, held after the end of a project or project stage, where the team identifies and analyses learning points through discussion and dialogue, in order to derive lessons and actions for the future. The facilitator leads an inclusive discussion to identify
- What went well and what did not go to plan in the project
- Why the successful elements succeeded, and why the failures and mistakes happened (looking for root cause)
- How future projects can repeat the success and avoid the failure.
The key questions are therefore What, Why and How; very open questions which allow full exploration of the lessons learned.
Note that there is no Who question. We do not really care who was the hero or who was the villain. This is a no-blame process, as well as a no-praise process. We are searching neither for Witches or for Knights; only for the truth.
An open, no-blame culture requires open no-blame processes such as the Retrospect.
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