NS blaming mistake on partnerYou know that collaboration is essential in everything we do. Yesterday I travelled by train to meetings in Amsterdam and I had to get out at the Amsterdam Muiderpoort station. However, something went wrong: the train did stop, but on the wrong track and thus we as passengers were unable to get out. Quite unfortunate, but mistakes happen, so I did not really care. The train would continue to the next station where I could connect on to the metro and I would still make it on time to my meeting.

However, what bothered me in this situation is the fact that the Dutch Railway staff publicly started to blame their partner ProRail for this omission. First through a public announcement in the train and followed by the Train Guard who kept on excusing the Dutch Railways (NS or Nederlandse Spoorwegen) behind the fact that ProRail had made a mistake.

I understand that putting a train on the wrong track can be a serious mistake, with potentially far more consequences than passengers who can not leave the train. However, being in the space of alliances and collaboration, I was astonished about the communication. After all, the result of an alliance is the result of the collaborative effort of all the partners. Communication is an essential element in that collaborative effort and you simply do not put your partner on the spot to make yourself look good.

It clearly would have been better to keep the customer in mind. The communication should have been focussed on helping the passengers who could not leave the train to get back to their destination in the most convenient way.

When you have been involved in a partnership, you have faced situations where your partner makes a mistake. It happens. After all, nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. If the situation involves your customer, like in this case, what would you do; how would you handle communication to your customer?

7 Responses to “Do you publicly blame your collaboration partner?”

  1. I hope the management realise that the cause of this behaviour is more likely to be the regularly unreliable performance of the two companies, rather than the communications protocol of the staff who face the customer every day. In human nature we will all take the credit and even share the blame for the work of others when things are going well 🙂

  2. Passengers are not that interested in who is to blame. They want to know when the problem is going to be fixed so they can be on their way, or even as in this case to know that the problem is NOT going to be fixed but what will happen next and when.

    NS needs to fix its issues with ProRail behind the scenes and meanwhile take responsibility for the performance of their partners and sub-contractors. Finger pointing does not help; it wastes time and defocusses everybody.

    As a rail traveller I would be very discouraged by the communication Peter witnessed. It sounds like a fix is a long way off.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for your contribution.

      In the mean time I have been in contact with an executive at the NS who ensured me that they are working hard to fix this behavior behind the scenes. Finger pointing to, and letting down of, the collaboration partner was being seen as “not done”.
      Would be great if the NS will chime in for a public reply!

  3. Michiel ten Kate


    I am in full agreement that in the underlying situation communication should be done with the customer in mind. That is what partnership should all be about. The biggest question however is: “how do you inculcate this mindset in both organisations?”. I guess there is still a lot to do for people in the partnership business!

    • Michiel, I have been thinking about along similar lines the past days: in this case there is more to it than just the announcement in the train and with that blaming the partner. I think it is on one side a cultural matter, on the other side a communication/awareness matter. It is very well possible that the workforce is not briefed on the partnership and how to handle.

      Then there is another element to it and that is that the partnership between ProRail and the Nederlandse Spoorwegen is a partnership that is forced upon them by the government when they splitted the organization from one Nederlandse Spoorwegen organization into two separate organizations. This will not be helpful if not managed well inside the respective organizations. In addition the fact that whenever there is something happening on the rail the Dutch press is blaming both organizations is also not helping at all.

      As you said Michiel, there is still a lot to do for people in the partnership business and this sound like a very challenging, and interesting, project to run and improve! 🙂

  4. You make a great point Peter. And I know right where you were as I spent a lovely week in Amsterdam this April and stayed at an appartment not far from Muiderpoort.

    These types of statements by a partner toward another partner during a problem are rampant aren’t they?

    As a long time student of personal and shared responsibility and the associated areas of partnering, collaboration, and teamwork, I am always bemused when partners causually blame each other for problems created for users. However it doesn’t make them “bad” as much as unaware. You see The Responsibility Process research shows us that blame is our very first reponse when we feel the anxiety of a problem that we’ve had a part in. And who we blame is a function of who is available — and it turns out that a collaboration partner is an easy culprit to stick it on.

    • Hi Christopher, thanks for your comment. I agree, in this case I feel it was just unawareness of the people on the job. Actually I can’t (and won’t) blame them. I feel it is more a matter of company culture and most likely lack of properly briefing the company about this partnership.