≡ Menu
Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

On Responsibility

On Responsibility post image

Mark sucks. I mean, he really does. He was given a chance to take responsibility and he failed. Now he avoids any responsibility at all. The whole team does care about the project, but not Mark. Even when we try to push him a bit so he eventually commits to do something he acts like he was Mr. Reluctant or something.

The interesting part is why Mark is reluctant when it comes to get involved. I mean, he was a freshman here at some time, wasn’t he? Since he decided to join the organization he likely had some positive motivation. I’d say it is a safe bet.

What happened then?

Did he get a chance to take responsibility? He probably did. Otherwise we wouldn’t complain now. Did he succeed? Um, not likely. Otherwise we wouldn’t complain now. So he failed. Now, what is important here is not the fact Mark failed but how he failed.

First, did we really give Mark a chance to declare the goal? I mean I can set a totally unrealistic goal for you. Would you really feel you’re taking responsibility to achieve it? I don’t think so. But let’s make an optimistic assumption. Let’s say that Mark either really felt he was going to make it or, better, had a chance to declare the goal by himself.

Yet he still failed.

What a surprise. After all, we are perfect in whatever we do and we virtually never fail. We can reach our goals or exceed expectations, there’s no other way. Why did Mark fail than?

Maybe because, in reality, we all fail. Probably more often than we’d like to admit.

I can say that Mark was actually expected to fail eventually. The important point here is: was he allowed to? How much space did we leave him to make his own mistakes and learn from them? Was he allowed to make his own choices and live with consequences or we were second-guessing all his ideas and overtook the task at first sign of problems?

These are important questions. Because as long as Mark wasn’t given enough space to choose his path and live with consequences of this choice he wasn’t give a chance to take responsibility.

We basically taught him to avoid it. We taught him that it is a safe way to stand on the side because trying to be autonomous results in punishment. And now we wonder where the source of his aversion to become accountable for something is.

I have bad news. We are the source.

Next time you think why this or that guy doesn’t want to take responsibility don’t focus on the guy – focus on the situation. And on the management. Usually it is where you find the real reason.

in: team management

2 comments… add one

  • Le Do Hoang Long March 27, 2012, 6:19 pm

    Nice question, Pawel. But in a small organization like my company, it costs to let people make mistakes. It’s just not so easy.

    I think that out of 100 “Mark”, there will be at least 1 will continue trying even after failure. Like you say, I guess the more our organization open for mistakes, the more “responsible Mark” will appear. But it seems to be the case of big company, who can stand against small loss.

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 28, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Failure costs. That’s true.

    However, the interesting thing here is whether not allowing failure costs you less. My guess is it costs the organization way more both in terms of direct costs (few “responsible” don’t scale up) and in terms of lost opportunities (people don’t grow so you won’t be using their potential).

    And really, I don’t think the size of organization has anything to do with this. It is a part of organizational culture, that’s true. However I saw all sorts of examples among all sorts of companies.

    Actually, you can scale this story down to team-level and it still holds true even if you don’t look through a perspective of a whole organization.

Leave a Comment