A parable –

A farmer once chanced upon a pumpkin. He carved it up to make the meanest scarecrow he could. Since he was lazy, he did not have much interest in doing much of anything. But he knew fear can be a strong motivator, amygdala and all. So the scarecrow did its thing, and all that grew were watermelons green on the outside, and red on the inside.

Modern Organizations

Team and organizational dysfunctions are to be expected. Organizational system structures learn to compensate for these dysfunctions, over compensating in some aspects to make up for deficiencies in other. This is the current status-quo, where real issues are hidden by team members who compensate fear of failure with lack of trust with each other. Culture of blame harvests watermelons, green on the outside and red on the inside.

Scarecrows passively deter threats, namely birds and animals that want to take advantage of unattended farm. Scarecrow management is then passive deterrence of known threats and ignorance of the many hidden risks that eat away at the produce. Scarecrow management falsely believe that all failures are bad. Their mental models are locked into a false dichotomy where every failure must be avoided by enforcing policies, rules, procedures that demand high-accountability and as consequence know who to blame for failures. This erodes psychological safety and forces people into defensive stances that hide real issues and erode learning opportunities. A culture of fear and blame persists, harvesting watermelons.

Fear of failure and lack of trust that stems from this fear is foundational to dysfunctions in organizations. Fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents development of trust within the team, and between the teams and leadership. Active leadership replaces blame with curiosity, looks beyond the superficial, to uncover learning opportunities.

How can we respond constructively to failures without giving rise to anything-goes attitude?

By solving this puzzle, we can perhaps unlock the key to building trust, which is absolutely necessary to building high-performing learning organizations.