Responsibility, Ownership and Blame

How often are you responsible for something? quite often I guess. Every time you need to fulfill a task of any kind you are responsible for doing it. It doesn’t matter if you assigned it to yourself, or you have been assigned by someone else. Being responsible mainly means doing the required task when it is needed, in other words, on time. But there is a deeper meaning to being responsible, it is a moral ethos, known as Moral responsibility.

A responsible kid, Photo by Bipul Rabha on Wikimedia commons, under CC BY-SA 3.0

Being responsible for something doesn’t mean you feel you own it. Especially if a task was assigned to you without context. In order to connect with a topic and feel ownership, one must understand the reasoning, motivation and desired goal of the bigger picture. Usually people want to be part of a bigger thing, and understand why something was requested from them. It is usually not a problem if the needed task was initiated by the person actually doing the task, as the entire picture of why a task is needed is clear to them.

But what happens when a few people are responsible for a task, but no one really owns it? If everything somehow works well, and no issues are found along the way, they will get praised for completing their tasks, and will move one. However, from my experience, when there is a lack of ownership, things go bad, and when things go bad, we enter a whole new, horrible game.

The blame game usually shows up when people are disconnected from a mission, and have no real owner to talk to, share the situation and reflect on their point of view. It is a very destructive game, that mostly hurts trust. I covered a bit in the past the importance of building trust, and it is suffice to say that if you get into blame games, you are surely breaking trust.

The desired place to be in is a blameless environment, which can only be achieved by have a strong trust in each other, while assuming good faith. Another critical ingredient is ownership. You can’t assign ownership. The only person that can decide they are owning something is the person themselves.

We want to encourage people to take ownership, and steer the way and shape of things. Giving context to tasks, telling stories about our goals and missions and coloring the world we want to see are all good ways to tie people to our bigger picture. However without emotional connection to it, ownership will not stick. I think that in the professional work related areas, having professional pride can assist in having this emotional connection. In addition, if you know your work impacts other people, you are more likely to take ownership, as ling as you don’t feel like you are being a sucker. People usually like being part of a bigger story, and own a portion of that story, you just need to giving the prosperous grounds to build upon.

Originally published at https://www.matanyamos.es on June 18, 2019.

People, Process, Tooling