The blame culture is an unfortunate reality of the modern world. People are always trying to decipher where fault lies and how the perpetrator can be punished for whatever the wrongdoing may be. Wether that be in losing a job, being sued, or simply being demonized, the blame culture can be seen.
There are a few industries that do not use a blame culture. Certainly not one as most would recognise it. I'm going to focus on the Aerospace Industry.
When designing and manufacturing an aircraft there is always a significant safety factor built in to each and every part. Everything that is essential to keeping that aircraft in the air and in control will have resilient and redundant systems operating to maximise safety. From the person who first puts the design down on paper, to the person who installs the part, everything is done with safety in mind. The reasons for this are obvious - if something fails, people could die. A lot of people. Hundreds of people. So safety is paramount.
We all know though, that accidents happen. And whilst most aircraft accidents are caused by pilot error, mechanical and electrical failures claim responsibility for a large number of incidents in the air. Whether that be a design flaw, a component failure or even improper maintenance, accidents do happen.
How the industry reacts to these incidents is what is most remarkable. There is no witch hunt. No head hunting. There is simply a drive to understand why the failure was allowed to happen. Why was the pilot allowed to make the decision he or she did? Why did the service engineer fail to correctly install the component? Why did the part not fail during testing?
What happens is the industry team up and redefine their operating procedures. They do everything they can to prevent a re-occurrence of the failure. They don't blame the pilot or the engineer or the design. They blame the process that those people were following. The process was flawed.
Even deviation from that process is seen as a process flaw. People should not be allowed to deviate. They should be prevented from doing so with checks, double-checks and triple-checks. Work should be signed off by multiple people. This is one of the main reasons for having a co-pilot. He is not there simply to watch whilst the pilot is asleep or eating. He is there to question a course of action.
So what, you might ask, has all this to do with motorsport?
I have worked with dozens of teams over the last few years. Sometimes there is a traditional blame culture. Sometimes there is an aerospace style one. Sometimes the people are blamed. Sometimes the process is blamed.
In your careers, I urge you to work towards the latter. Fixing the process rather then fixing the people is one of the fastest ways to increase the reliability of your car and of your team. The teams that blame people will have a high turnover, which in turn means talented engineers are forced away simply due to a blame culture. With them, they take knowledge and intuition. Team morale is lower. Reliability is lower. Respect is lower. There are no positives.
Fixing a process on the other hand means those closest to the issue are around to help resolve it. They can redesign the process themselves to prevent future failures. These might not only be mechanical failures - communication, and strategy might also suffer with an inadequate process driving them.
Strive to strengthen any team you are in. Don't blame the people; blame the process.
Tom is an engineer working his way through the motorsport industry, sharing stories, anecdotes and lessons to help new engineers coming through the ranks.