I live in the midst of the blame game – I work for a general contractor. In the construction industry, you exist in this middleman role between the owner and architect who hire you to build a building and the subcontractors who actually build it. The general contractor (us) is like the drill sergeant or captain responsible for carrying out the plan of action. There is a schedule to abide by, numerous deadlines to meet, architects to address, and a lot of subcontractors to coordinate and oversee. It is our job to make sure the project gets done correctly and on time and that our end product is pleasing to the owner. Construction is all about producing results on schedule, and those results are obviously visible, as anyone can see the progress of a building.
With that being said, there is a tremendous amount of responsibility on us when something goes wrong or doesn’t go as planned. The end goal of construction is meeting deadlines and producing a building, but the process of doing so is one of error correcting, engaging, and blaming. For example, the owner may change his mind on design or vision for the building, and we must accommodate, or maybe the asphalt pavers messed up or are working behind schedule. The point being that in construction there are a lot of moving pieces leaving ample room for error. The best construction companies are the ones who reduce and mitigate these errors. Unfortunately, the more you get immersed in the business the more you realize nothing ever gets done on time or 100% right. This leads to the blame game, a game of pointing fingers at who’s responsible for error or change. Underneath it all looms the question: “Who is paying for this error?” It creates an exceptionally elaborate process whereby each party does their best to cover themselves – so that when a mess-up happens the blame can be shifted elsewhere.
This is really nothing new, though. Man’s selfishness started soon after God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had a relationship designed to be built on trust, unity and love. However, the Fall changed all of that; Adam blamed Eve, saying she was responsible for his disobedience because she was the one who gave him the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam pointed the finger. What we see firsthand in today’s world is just the development and refinement of something quite ancient.
Personally this has a heavy effect on me as a follower of Christ. As you might imagine in a business constantly working to mitigate and address errors, there is a lot of tension, blame, and at times hostility in the work environment. You can envision the anger, the panic, the habit of scrambling to defend yourself against all parties involved in the incident – whatever it is. The situation hardly ever gets redeemed without any consequences attached to it. This brings me back to the point of taking precautionary measures to cover yourself the best you can to avoid responsibility for errors. A few weeks ago I was tasked with composing a Submittal Log, which is essentially a record of all the job and work specifications required of the project and what is needed for each. So if the project required the installation of hydraulic elevators, the subcontractor would have to submit product and material data, samples for selection and verification, manufacturer certificates and warranties, proof of insurance, and sign off on our very long list of specifications for the job. Specifications of an entire project can easily surpass a thousand pages. I was surprised when we were emailed a submittal log from the architect working the job, the essentially created the exact same thing I was working on. So I went to my boss and asked respectfully out of curiosity why I was doing a log that took a few days and filled up numerous excel pages if the architect was already doing one. The answer: to make sure we had everything needed to cover our backs and to make sure the architects didn’t leave anything out. I was exposed to the tension and lack of trust between the parties – so that when a mistake is made everybody is ready to defend themselves.
Personally it is challenging to see people pointing the finger at one another when something is done incorrectly or not on time. Not only is it just a tough environment to be in, but I also long to tell everyone that the reason things are like this is because it’s the reality of the world, broken by of our Sin. The blame game is just another symptom. God made it to be different.
Scott Phillips is a project engineer in the construction industry and a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.
Images: FreeImages.com/bdopudja, Griszka Niewiadomski