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When a Project or Strategy Fails, Who Do You Blame?

Despite the copious amounts of great content available covering everything from how to handle business failure to building high performing teams and let's not forget how to be an effective leader, some businesses still choose to operate on a burning platform.

What I am noticing from the work I do through my company THE LEAD ICON is that as soon as a project or strategy fails, the team (this includes managers and leaders) disintegrates and defaults to the defensive mode. Then comes the avalanche of blaming, complaining, justifying, gossiping and stonewalling. Resentment and mistrust spread like rapid fire and often the hard or soft remedy used by management to reestablish order unwittingly perpetuates the problem, which is then left to simmer and you guessed it, further destroys the company's culture.

Recently we worked with a group of technologists who were building a machine learning application that would help their customer with data gathering. The immediate problems that emerged included: the CEO was distracted with revenue and growth issues, whilst the project leader felt they did not have the authority to call out incompetence and to make certain team members more accountable. In the end the customer ended the contract prematurely. The project lead ducked for cover and the under performing team members banded together and blamed the projects failure completely on the team leader. Not one person claimed any responsibility, including the CEO.

Employing basic sociological and psychological thinking, this behaviour is due to biology, self-preservation and fear. However, until we are brave to change within ourselves the dysfunctional relationship we have with self-awareness, accountability, distraction and handling setbacks, unhelpful behaviour will persist.

Next time, instead of pointing the finger, look in the mirror, and ask:

  1. "Which part of this is on me and is there a common theme here?"

  2. “How can I learn from this mistake, and what will I do differently next time?"

  3. “How can I help my team become even stronger?”

Being open to learn from our individual and collective mistakes is one thing, the second part is too stop ignoring and avoiding making them, because we will make the same ones over and over again. A more empowering approach would be to focus on being leaders who develop leaders. There is nothing more rewarding than working in a dynamic team who:

  1. Do not allow toxic situations to escalate.

  2. Value accountability, deep thinking and collaboration.

  3. Who call out unhelpful behaviour.

  4. Are honest.

  5. Help other team members who are struggling much earlier on.

  6. Release toxic ones quick smart.

Need help with your projects, strategies and teams, please contact me at and also please visit

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