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Basically, say you are on a project with a co-worker of equal rank, neither of you wholly responsible for the work, but you are more commonly associated with the project.

In this situation, say your colleague makes an error. When this is discovered in a meeting or demonstration or brought to your attention. Assuming the colleague was present when it was discovered, which would be the more acceptable way of handling it?

You pointing out

"Ah, that was actually (person)'s contribution."

The colleague admitting:

"Oh that was actually my section, apologies."

You don't want to be automatically blamed for every mistake on a project you're associated with, but it also seems rude to be pointing the finger at your colleague, especially in front of others.

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    There are many similar questions on this site. The answer is always the same: Focus on fixing the problem and maintaining a good working atmosphere, not assigning blame – AlexFoxGill Jun 25 '15 at 15:05
  • It's more about the etiquette in this situation than anything. I'd consider it rude to point it out, and rude to say nothing if it was my fault. Just looking for the more acceptable standard – sturrockad Jun 25 '15 at 15:07
  • As AlexFoxGill said: the best practice here is to not assign any blame at all. That's a very acceptable standard. If the error was bad enough that some follow up action is required, that should be done in private by the manager. – Hilmar Jun 25 '15 at 17:08
  • To clear up any confusion, blame IS being assigned, that is inevitable. If nothing is said the one associated with the project will obviously take the blame. The question is about whose responsibility is it to correct wrongly placed blame. – sturrockad Jun 25 '15 at 22:53
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    blame IS being assigned that is inevitable - Why? If there's a bug discovered in the meeting, for example, you could say "Oh, this is a bug. I will enter it into our bug tracker right after the meeting so we can get on fixing it." Then continue with the demonstration. – Brandin Jun 26 '15 at 10:12
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Assuming the colleague was present when it was discovered, which would be the more acceptable way of handling it?

You pointing out: "Ah, that was actually (person)'s contribution."

The colleague admitting: "Oh that was actually my section, apologies."

In general, it's always better if the responsible party owns up to an issue. In fact, it's rather snarky if someone else throws the responsible party under the bus.

People are generally very forgiving, and owning up to a mistake is often the start of the road to forgiveness. Particularly if this error isn't a big deal, it will typically be quickly dismissed if dealt with quickly and honestly by the responsible party.

Of course it depends on the culture of the organization, and the nature of the issue. In some situations it might be very important to associate the "error" with an individual. Many times, it's not a big deal.

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    Does anyone have to own up though? Granted, I am currently working with a great team, but when a problem is found our first order of business is fixing it, not blaming someone. We are all responsible for our team's work, and even though one person made a mistake, someone else didn't catch it before it got far enough to be visible to folks outside the team, so we all have some culpability. – ColleenV parted ways Jun 27 '15 at 19:20
  • @ColleenV How would your boss ever spot an employee with an unacceptable high bug rate? – Sjoerd Jun 28 '15 at 4:57
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    @Sjoerd That's not how we're evaluated, but if there was one person on the team that was causing a lot of Production issues, the team would bring it to the attention of our management if we couldn't work it out. We work on critical high-availability systems, and Production issues make the entire team look bad. It's in our best interest to help each other not keep a ledger of who made a mistake this week. – ColleenV parted ways Jun 28 '15 at 11:39
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As has been said before, the best thing to do is present solutions to the problem rather than focusing on blame. However, if it's the sort of work environment where people will directly ask who is responsible, then it's understandable to worry that you look like you're dodging the question by focusing on solutions. And, as you say, if you are the person most associated with that project, people will assume it was your fault.

Even if you are most associated with the project, it is a team project and everyone's responsibility to be sure that the work is good enough quality before presenting it in a meeting. I would suggest avoiding allocating blame to either yourself or your teammate but accepting responsibility as a unit.

Having said that, if your teammate is sitting silently while you are grilled about his fudge-ups, I'd talk to him about that!

  • Maybe the outside world doesn't need to know who was responsible, but surely your boss would like to know! How else would he get rid of team members with unacceptable high bug rates, if it is never pointed out? – Sjoerd Jun 28 '15 at 4:59

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