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Root Cause Analysis. If that phrase makes your heart sink you are not alone. Its misuse as an excuse for a witch hunt is the hallmark of a damaged culture. Or perhaps it’s worse when it’s used in good faith but in the wrong situation? 

In a complex environment (hello, knowledge working!) everything is interconnected. Outcomes are derived from a diverse range of factors and unpicking the influence of each one is not only tricky, but unhelpful. Many systems are unstable in that similar starting conditions result in radically different outcomes even when all variables are known (chaos theory). Causation can be practically impossible to attribute. 

The social hazards with using root cause analyses in complex situations are significant. Fear of copping the blame for something you can’t control is pernicious. It leads to organisationally-damaging behaviours like hiding problems and blaming others. 

Next time something “goes wrong”, think twice about seeking a single scapegoat. Can you set your team up to be rewarded for asking for help instead? It’s a much more productive use of time for all involved.

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