According to the Oxford dictionary, responsibility means “the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something”, “the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something”, or “a moral obligation to behave correctly”. That doesn’t really sound too interesting, so why could that topic be so important at Catalysts?
In early 2012 I attended a workshop about “Leading and Coaching Agile Teams” that brought some highly useful revelations. Christopher Avery explained how we react when things go wrong, i.e. the many situations during the day where small things go wrong. He uses the following poster:
Reading his poster from bottom to top:
- In Denial we ignore the existence of a problem (e.g. because we have no focus on it, we are not aware of it, or we pay no attention to it).
- In Lay Blame we hold others at fault for causing the problem.
- In Justify we use excuses (i.e. blame circumstances) for things being the way they are.
- In Shame we lay blame on ourselves (we often feel guilty)
- In Obligation we do what we have to instead of what we want to.
- In Quit we give up to avoid the pain of Shame and Obligation.
- Only in Responsibility we do whatever we can to overcome a problem and to make sure that it doesn’t come up again. We use all our capabilities. We grow. We are creative. And we enjoy it.
We are human beings. When something goes wrong, it’s fully natural that we are upset, that we are frustrated or anxious. But since we are human beings, we can also learn to handle those situations better and modify our natural reactions:
- In Lay Blame: I can refuse to blame another person for the problem.
- In Justify: I can refuse to believe my story of intricate reasoning.
- In Shame: I can decide to stop beating myself up.
- In Obligation: I can refuse to feel trapped.
In the state of Responsibility I trust that I have sufficient intelligence, creativity, and resources to face whatever life brings.
Christopher Avery’s approach to deal with problems is really powerful. I can only encourage you to take some time to learn more about it, e.g.
- to watch a 7 minute video
- to read his marvellous book “The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power”, or
- to attend one of his workshops (I’ve even brought him to Austria twice already and am happy to organize the next workshop as soon as enough people ask for it).
In order to institutionalize his approach at Catalysts, we have a compulsory learning lesson for every new team member to get a gentle introduction into the topic We have dozens of signed copies of his book and invite every new team member to read it. We have the printout of The Responsibility Process on each desk.
But that’s all just theoretical knowledge. And we favor practical experience. Hence, there are practical exercises like the “Catch Yourself Sooner” game in order to understand in which mental state you typically are when you respond to a problem. E.g. if it becomes clear to you that your natural reaction is to come up with a perfect justification for everything, you can try to cut that story short next time, not let it out, and get to a healthier mental state quickly.
Furthermore, we have many responsibility role models at Catalysts. You can select some of your colleagues as your personal “responsibility buddies” and ask them to observe your behaviour and reactions when problems occur and to give you feedback so you can catch yourself sooner next time (in case you – once again – had invented your perfect chain of reasoning for a problem).
The Responsibility Process grants everyone the right to confront every problem. You are not meant to put up with it. You are explicitly empowered to do the right thing. Just as you can rightfully expect everyone else to do so.
Overall that really makes a difference. It’s an important contributor to a healthy environment.