No I’m Responsible

No I'm Responsible

If a lack of personal responsibility is an increasing problem, then the claiming of responsibility can also be an issue.

Particularly when two people claim to be responsible for the same thing.

Happy Days: Winning the Bid

This case study goes back to 1997 and the dawn of the web. In 1996 I successfully won my first European bid to the Leonardo programme for innovation in training with the CESaME Sunflower project. This brought together a consortium of educational institutions, management consultants, trainers and IT specialists. It had partners in Ireland, Sweden, Italy and Germany as well as individuals and organisations in England and Wales.

The aim was to use the web to provide coaching of SMEs assisted remotely by dedicated consultants. It required the development of prototype face-to-face coach training programme and the launch of a trial version of the supporting database of information on a complex secure site hosted in the UK. All on dial-up connections and with remote working to cope with!

I’m responsible!

As a Project Manager, the first thing is to re-agree work packages and budgets, once the bid is won. Despite this being an international project, this was relatively straightforward with educationalists talking to each other in a common language like separately the IT specialists. The management consultants were typically able to flip between the other two groups with ease. But the biggest battle was over the Design work-packages with two claimants, the UK internet service provider and a UK university claiming all of them.

All was clear speaking to them individually, but neither would budge from the position that they were responsible for all 4 packages. The suggestion of a phone conversation between them was accepted- no easy conference calls in those days. But still despite the discussion the insistence continued.

Sitting down and talking works

The project was stalled. The only thing to do was to arrange a face to face meeting between them which I would facilitate to sort out who was responsible for each of these Design work packages. The meeting started with each describing what they meant by design and within 10 minutes the responsibilities were sorted.

The ISP talked about technical and technological design in terms of coding; the university in terms of pedagogy of this prototype e-learning system so look, feel and engagement of the user. Each therefore had specialist meanings for the common English words of design, usability and effectiveness seen in all 4 work-packages. This somehow had overshadowed the words around them which gave the technical or learning flavour.

Responsible Lessons

  • Don’t avoid difficult conversations about responsibility or allow it to go unchallenged
  • The same word can have different meanings so enable the individual interpretations to be voiced.
  • Recognise that this discussion needs to be done face to face with active listening controlling emotional responses to take the situation forward.
  • Recognise what is a misunderstanding as here and what is an attempt to unfairly grab advantage/build an empire.
  • As a Manager allow both parties to explain their position to each other and if necessary be prepared to rule conclusively who is responsible for what, when and how.