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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Are you making this management mistake?

Over coffee my colleague Kevin poured his troubles into my sympathetic ear. 
He had received an email from his client and had promptly answered it. 
Little did he know that the sales team had also received the letter and answered it as well! Not just answered it – their answer contradicted Kevin's! 
The client, as you can well imagine, was really confused. So could they help him or not? The support team's answer told him in black and white that they'd be happy to help. The sales team, however, had a different answer for him – what he wanted simply couldn't be done! 

Who's to blame here? What advice should I give Kevin? (I'm typing this as he's refilling his coffee cup) 

Parallel reality

Now imagine that Kevin and the Sales department had agreed that Kevin was wholly responsible for answering emails from customers. There would have been no misunderstanding, no frustrated Kevin and no stress for the customer.


Divided responsibility instantly provides a question: “Where exactly does my responsibility end and the other person's responsibility start? What part do I, personally, have to do?”

Ignoring this unspoken question on both sides usually leads to subconsciously shifting all the responsibility to the other person's shoulders, thus depriving the task of the opportunity to actually be done. 

One task – two people

If two people receive the same task, there are three scenarios: 
  1. They both do it. 
  2. They both don't do it, thinking that the other one will do it. 
  3. One of them does it. 
In the first case, precious time was wasted on doing something twice. Also, the results can contradict each other, as in Kevin's situation. 
In the second scenario, the task simply doesn't get done at all, which is not a great outcome. 
The third scenario is the best option on the table.

So why not just jump to the third situation, skipping 1 and 2?

How to make sure a job gets done and done well

If the best way is to have one person do something, then why not have this person wholly responsible for accomplishing this task? 

One task = one person in charge 

So even though several people can contribute to getting a task done, only one should be held totally responsible for this task.

Sole responsibility is a huge motivation-booster, partly because you've been trusted to accomplish this, all the bets are on you, and partly because you know that if you don't get this done, you'll be the one in trouble. 

The advantages for you as the manager

  • You as the person who set the task will know whom to go to for results. 
  • The sole assignee will be more proactive and motivated to do the task. 
  • There will be no confusion as to who's in charge of the task. 
  • The task itself will get done more quickly. 

So choose one assignee for each specific task based on their skills and experience. Projects lets you assign a task only to one person at a time. You can reassign it, but one assignee is responsible at any given moment.

Does science agree?

“The sole and undivided responsibility of one man will naturally beget a livelier sense of duty and a more exact regard to reputation.” – Alexander Hamilton

Also, Dirk Sliwka of the University of Bonn states in his article On the Notion of Responsibility in Organizations that “Responsibility for a certain task should be allocated to exactly one member of an organization even though others can possibly contribute to the task.” 

What the future holds

Of course there are situations when several people are doing parts of a task. That's why we're currently working on a new feature which will allow you to add checklists to tasks and assign items to different assignees. One person will still be responsible overall, but each little item on the checklists can be carried out by others. 

Stay tuned to be the first to know about the release of checklists! 

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