Performance Management Blog

The Blame Frame, Innovation and Intrinsic Motivation

In one of my LinkedIn groups, this question was posed:

Any advice on how to wisely handle the coaching of a team where the senior figures in it never get tired of playing the ‘blame game’?
So I chimed in with:

I’ve been using Square Wheels cartoons as discussion tools for 20 years now. Two come to mind for this situation and “illustrate” the issues to everyone pretty neatly.

The first illustration shows a horse pushing the Square Wheel wagon with the people on the hill in the background. I show the cartoon and ask tabletops to discuss what is going on and to generate as many ideas as they can. I allow them 5 minutes or so to brainstorm and then I go around to the different tables asking them for one thought.

Trial and Error yellow

You can easily get 20 reactions projected onto the illustration, with prominent ones like “cart before the horse” and a number of comments about what they should have done better or differently. People also project thoughts like, “the four people are about to run away over the hill” and “the people all feel pretty stupid.”

I then reframe the illustration around things like innovation and trial and error and the need for perspective and reflection. A common theme of mine with the cartoons is, “Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!” Look from a distance. Keep trying.

What I then do is overlay a “Blame Frame” over the illustration and allow the group to discuss the impacts of focusing on errors as opposed to focusing on opportunities.

Square Wheels Trial and Error with Blame Frame

We get about 5 or 6 negative reactions to each positive one during the idea sharing. Very few people will put a positive spin on what they are seeing. So, we actually catch them being negative and talk about those impacts, the real impacts of negativity and blame, on the issues of innovation, engagement, and motivation.

I don’t have to tell anyone much of anything; they figure it out all on their own as they reflect on what they just did and even how the response of others then reinforced their own negativity. Sometimes, they even reject the positive spins that someone might put on it.

For me, the kinesthetic and the self-induced awareness are keys in generating the cognitive dissonance they need, individually and collectively, to change their future choices. The reality and reframing is really something along these lines:

Trial and Error Murphy's Law words
The key is perspective. The key is to look and consider possibilities for continuous continuous improvement. Simple. Step back from the wagon!

Oh:  “Boss spelled backwards is self-explanatory.” That is also a useful dynamic to anchor. We get a lot more with intrinsic motivation that comes from success. Blame only makes the Boss feel better.


If you like this overall approach, please note that I did a similar but differently-focused blog along similare themes back in 2012 that you might find interesting. Click on the image link below to see those writings:

Elegant Solutions

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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