Mapping Responsiblity

When you’re driving change, often part of your journey is determining who is responsible for the whole or the parts of the area you wish to change.  Sometimes you’ll find that though someone or several people should be responsible, actually getting one or more of them to admit their responsibility is next to impossible.  Here’s a trick I use to visualize the responsibility gaps.  Try it out and see how it works for you.

  • Choose a problem or area of contention to discuss.
  • Attempt, as much as possible, to get all the people you perceive have some portion of responsibility into one room. This is often harder than it sounds and can be skipped in favor of a more speculative method, but that method won’t yield more than a quarter of the results if everyone involved is present.
  • Label a point on a piece of paper or a white board as the problem spot then draw a large circle around it.
  • Ask the parties involved what portion they perceive (or know through documentation) is their responsibility. As you draw the picture, show only those overlapping regions which the people in the room offer to you.
  • When each “semi-responsible” party is listed in the drawing, follow up by asking the group if there are any areas where their responsibilities overlap.
  • After correcting the drawing for those areas, ask if there are any areas where no one is responsible. Mark those unclaimed regions.
  • The fun for the participants comes when you ask them “Who should be responsible?” This is often an easy answer for people to give because they get to do what they’ve long done non-visually, leave the responsibility with others.
  • With this current state responsibility map, ask the group who benefits if this problem is resolved. Note any groups or individuals listed that have no responsibility in the map.
  • Ask the group who suffers if this problem is resolved. Note any group or individual listed that has no responsibility in the map.
  • Ask anyone present who has responsibility but defined in narrowly why they define their responsibility so narrowly. Listen for past incidents of punishment for exceeding perceived responsibility (e.g., the top leader punished me because I didn’t ask permission before I tried to fix that last time). Try to determine whether or not the conditions that created that situation still exist, e.g., was that the behavior of that person or is that the ongoing expectation of anyone in that position.
  • Ask how we could free people to assume greater responsibility. To amplify this question, you should target it directly to those in the room who in the past have actively limited the responsibility of others. “Bob, what action will you take to free people to assume greater responsibility?”
  • Ask the group to close their eyes, keep their eyes closed, and raise their hands only if they agree with the statement, “I will assume a different range of my responsibility tomorrow, and behave differently now because of this analysis,” raise their hand.
  • Continue questioning until you see enough of the right people raising their hands to make near-term progress on the issue.
  • Share your responsibility map with anyone who wasn’t present during the actions above.  Add their feedback to the map.
  • Start driving change with those truly responsible.

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