Responsible = Response able

Responsible is a powerful term and I have used it a lot in posts, most notably my post about Learning to Thrive. But I have also been reflecting on how the word can have a variety of meanings.

Responsible to me also means that a team or person is able to make a response to a certain situation or trigger. That “ability” is to “being able to respond”. I have been using this in workshops to help people think about what it roles and responsibilities means to them in the real world. I also link it to “accountable” but that is another post coming soon!

What makes a person or team “able to respond”?

  • Skills
  • Context
  • Authority
  • Empowerment
  • Understanding of the implications

So if we are asking people to be “response able” we need to give them the tools to respond with. This comes down to building clear understandings around what is expected as a suitable response to certain situations. In a previous post I have explored levers for change which are the common things that we would expect people to modify when focusing on delivery issues. But what are the other things that people or teams can change to help make their delivery easier and or their lives more fun?

To help derive this I ask people to think about their end state, what is their desired outcome, I ask them to think about it in 2 or 3 dimensions, generally something like their delivery (role based) targets, their leadership style and then their team membership targets or goals.

Then I ask what are the elements of their world that they can change or modify to help them reach their targets. These are the response elements – the things that people have control over. These are where response ability sits, as these are the things such as events or actions that people need to manage, modify, move, create, reduce, increase (etc) to allow them to achieve their goals.

Next I ask them to think about what they would look for as triggers or indicators of the need to change – this becomes the accountability aspects (more on that later).

In a recent workshop I laid it out like this:


So each of the columns represent aspects of this thinking approach.

Role – what you do, what you deliver, where your skills lie, your domain speciality

Response – how you do it, events and actions that you can take to complete your role more effectively

Account – what you count, track or measure that allows you to know that you need to take an action or use an event to help you complete your role effectively.

Here’s an example:

  • Role – team leader, so I need to be available to my team to talk to me
  • Response – managing my time so that I am available. I am “response able” to move my calendar around, change appointments, make time and set up regular times with my team so that they know I am available
  • Account – day of the month (catching up regularly), team members attitude, emails from them asking to talk

I really think that if we are asking people to become more “responsible” then we need to give them the ability to respond. By completing the table and then ideally discussing the outcome with a team or in a coaching session we can identify where and when there are conflicts in goals and response abilities. Once we have identified any overlaps or conflicts then we can figure out what to do about them.




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