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Debunking the Myth of Shared Responsibility

Agile teams sing the praises of “shared responsibility”. “The TEAM is responsible!!” they chant as unicorns and rainbows appear in the sky. Shared responsibility or one throat to choke? Which works?

Recently my husband was away for a few days. Miraculously my house was cleaner than it’s ever been, the kids were eating complete meals, with vegetables, on actual plates. What was going on? I was the only one there, I felt more responsibility to do a good job, I took more pride in what I was doing.

“What? That’s crazy, you told us to be all team-ey!” I did. Keep your underwear on while we figure out what we share and what we don’t.

Shared stake, shared outcomes, not shared tasks. My husband and I share the desired outcome of happy, healthy kids, and a clean house. Well actually, I’m not sure about the clean house, but let’s keep this hypothetical. I can share the goal, but I cannot seem to share the task of “clean up the kitchen after dinner.” Too much of that falls between the cracks, he thinks I’ll do it, I think he’ll do it and when I wake up the next morning leftover chicken is sitting on the counter.

I coach Agile teams the same way. Minus the rotting food of course. Share the goal, share the outcome, ask for help, but when you start a task, it’s all you.

Everyone does NOT get a trophy! Team performance reviews and shared rewards are all the rage nowadays. Does anyone actually get to be special? Old school organizations mistakenly believe that if they focus on individual performance it will lift the organization. This never works because so much of the work is dependent on the space between people, as we reported in Handoffs or Hugs. Now the pendulum is in danger of swinging too far in the other direction. People should still be recognized for doing something extraordinary. And sometimes people might even do those things alone. Don’t be afraid to call it out or if it’s you, claim your win.

Responsible doesn’t mean solely responsible. I have long been an enemy of the RACI chart. (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed). This is a popular project management artifact that lets everyone know who is doing what. Once a Project Manager creates it, the box is checked, it’s filed away and never referred to again. But that’s not why I hate RACIs, I hate them because the lanes become too narrow. One client of mine likes to tell their staff “Stay in your lane!” Boy, that’s a collaboration killer if I ever heard one. If someone from Accounting has an idea that will make my software code better, let’s hear it! The best ideas come from non-experts because their minds are not clouded with assumptions.

What has your experience been with Shared Responsibility? Let us know!

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