Solution Focussed vs Blame Focussed

We are so used to reading or hearing from the media when politicians, public servants and indeed teachers get things wrong.  At these moments, the media often delights in pointing the finger at the perpetrator and demanding justice.  As a primary school leader, I often come across scenarios where things go wrong.  These critical incidents can include a class arriving late to assembly while the Deputy Headteacher is left waiting with four hundred fidgety pupils, to a breakdown in relationships between staff that has drawn emotional blood.

At these critical moments, the first reaction is often to point the finger of blame.  Our initial thoughts lead us to presume someone must be at fault and must take responsibility for what they have done, and consequently, that person must be seen to apologize in a public and demeaning manner. Although the blame is important for those who have been affected by the critical incident, it can cause an unhelpful distraction to resolving the issue.  Blame causes the people involved in the critical incident to feel threatened or belittled.  As such, the those involved in the blame respond in one of three ways; fight, flight or crumble, while the issue often remains unresolved.

                         Fight                                                         Flight                                                           Crumble

Our challenge as leaders is to ensure our staff are solution focussed, not blame focussed.  A solution focussed leader looks at the issue with the view of navigating a way forward with the people involved to resolve the issue as swiftly as possible.

As a mentor-coach, I am constantly thinking about how to encourage people to think through their own issues to find solutions that are deeply relevant to them. This process enables the member of staff to remain in control of their own destiny, helping them take ownership of the resolution and once achieved, to celebrate their success as a personal win.


                                             Image from NSPCC Solution-Focussed Page

The solution focussed model originated in the 1980s as a therapeutic model. The NSPCC utilise this model when working with children in finding solutions to very complex feelings (worthy of a read if you are considering this approach with children). The principles of the solution focussed model follow four steps:

1) Affirm the starting point - Ask the people involved where we have got to, what the key issues are and what went wrong without apportioning blame.  Make a clear statement that we are where we are and we can't now change what has happened so let us focus on what we can now do to move things forward.

2) What am I already doing well? - Using an appreciative inquiry model, look at what has worked and recognize the effort that has already been put into the issue, building a picture of where the current strengths are as these will be a strong starting point to the resolution of the issue.

3) What can I do differently to achieve my goal? - Look at the strengths and what went wrong, focus questions on what can be done differently to achieve the goal now and in the future, is there anyone else that could help move things forward, do the current staff have the time or capacity to resolve the issue?  Questioning can also lead staff involved to imagine their perfect solution, in mentor-coaching I would ask a staff member to consider casting their mind into the future and imagine waking up when the issue is perfectly resolved, how would this look and feel, what is the first thing they notice, how are others reacting to this?

4) Commit to action.  Once the solution focussed discussions have affirmed a possible path ahead to resolve the issue.  It is really useful to build in timescales, set a time to meet again with the staff to see that they have accomplished what they had hoped to resolve the issue.  Remember to praise for success.

So, I challenge all in a position of leadership to focus on solutions rather than blame.  In focussing on the solution, we stop the necessity to waste precious time with fight, flight or crumble; and move to resolving the issue while maintaining positive relationships and staff wellbeing on the journey. The benefits of a solution focussed culture is heightened trust, braver staff, increased innovation as mistakes are used as tools for growth, and a faster resolution to tough issues. Go on, give it a go; I double dare you!

Graham believes that being a headteacher is both humbling and deeply rewarding .If you are aspire for headship, then make sure to read his genuinely inspiring tale of why you should take the ride of being a headteacher.

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