Whose Responsiblity is it?

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I’m very good at delegating – people work much better when they have a real sense of responsibility. But at the same time, I don’t like surprises. I don’t pore over every shoot, but I do like to be aware at all times of what’s going on.

Anna Wintour

The women I coach are very caring and compassionate people and I am very grateful to be able to work with them. One of the wonderful results of having these characteristics is that we tend to trust people when we know that they care about us. And we all know that trust in relationships is a primary key to being able to influence people to commit to us and take action. What leader wouldn’t want to be trusted by their team?

The down side of caring and compassion is women’s tendency to take care of everyone else’s needs and not our own. I know that this is not a new concern. There are many articles about making sure we eat right, sleep right and get plenty of exercise. And there is plenty of recognition as well for the need to set boundaries that keep us from taking on too much work or being in a relationship with someone who drains our energy.

What we may not always recognize are the times when, as a leader, we take on responsibility for work that really belongs to someone else. Let’s look at an example of where this might happen.

A client is trying to determine how to organize her team in order to be the most effective. She asks whether she should create two person teams that specialize in different areas of work or cross train everyone for all the jobs.

She is concerned that if she breaks the team down into specialized areas that they will be very proficient in those areas but might not see the whole picture and make a wrong assumption or do something that won’t work.

On the other hand, if she cross trains everyone then they may not have deep enough skills in any one area to be highly effective.

We brainstorm some ideas and she decides that she will break the team into specialized units and in her kick-off meeting, in addition to articulating the goals, deadlines, responsibilities and expectations, she will also give everyone a high level overview of the entire project. This is a good idea in that it will give everyone an understanding of where to go and who to talk to if they have any questions about the direction of their work.

She also suggests that in addition to daily “standup meetings” where she checks on their progress, she will add a mid-project meeting to address any cross-team concerns. Again, a good idea in that she can use this time to ask questions and make sure that everyone is on the same track.

At this point I stop the brainstorming and asked my client a question. “Who is doing all the work to make this team successful?”

Yes, you’ve got it. It’s the leader. The leader is doing the training. The leader is preparing an overview for the kickoff meeting. The leader is holding meetings to make sure that people are working in sync. The leader is checking up on their progress. In other words, the leader is taking all the responsibility for the team being successful.  Is it any wonder that some days her stress level is off the charts?

This is exactly the type of situation where women tend to do work that appears at first to be our responsibility but in reality is the responsibility of the entire team. We take all the responsibility on ourselves and then wonder, “Why are we exhausted, stressed or overwhelmed with our work?”

What about the team? What is their role in making sure that they and the project are successful? Are they expected to just sit at their desk and “do their job” or do they have a larger responsibility to the team and the project?
Next question, “How do we get the team to take on a greater share of the responsibility for the project’s success while at the same time keeping the leader abreast of what is happening?”

For a few minutes we discuss options such as making a point to publicly praise people who,when they are unsure about a course of action, make an effort to take on responsibility for reaching out to other team members . “Of course,” my client says, “tracking who is taking on this responsibility  will mean more work for me.” Finally my client says quite honestly, “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.’
At this point I put on my mentor hat and propose an option. I ask “What do you think will happen if?”
* You create a very clear vision and expectations for a successful project that the team can buy into fully.
* You tell them about the potential risks of someone making a mistake because they only understood their particular specialized area of work.
* You ask the team to come up with a process or method for identifying and mitigating those risks.

My client’s response is, “Yes! That could work. They would be creating the rules or the process and by default would be more engaged in making it happen. And, I wouldn’t have to watchdog the project as much.”

Still wearing my mentor hat, I re-emphasize that the key will be to make sure that the vision and expectations we set for our team and the project are clear enough that they can stay on target.

This is WiseWoman Leadership. It is leadership where we create a clear vision and expectations that people can genuinely buy in to and then handoff the ‘how to’ to the team. It means engaging our teams and putting responsibility as well as the authority for the success of the project in the hands of the team. It means giving our team the same level of trust to get the job done that they give to us.

And now I’d like to ask you, the reader, a question.  Are you overwhelmed with work?  If you are not overwhelmed or stressed, I hope you will share with us how you get your team to take their share of the responsibility.


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