I’ve had the pleasure of watching many different people manage small to medium sized groups. Being able to see what works and what doesn’t work is one of the great parts of my job. There are mistakes that everyone makes when they manage a group for the first time. I’ve probably committed them all.
One of the most common ones is also one of the least obvious. It is a mistake that takes a while to become an obvious problem in a group. It is also unfortunately a hard mistake to come back from. The best way I can describe it is spontaneous responsibility.
The problem is that spontaneous responsibility doesn’t exist. Everyone would like to think that people become responsible in a vacuum, but it never happens.
Rookie managers often come into the position with little to no experience managing people. The thought of confrontation brings up images of red faced yelling, so they shy away from it. Instead, they would rather believe that people will realize they need to be responsible for things without actually having that conversation.
This is a mistake I’ve made time and time again. It is very difficult for me to tell someone they’ve made a mistake, or that they need to be the point person for this project or that. I am a responsible person by nature, so I tend to project that onto others. That projection has caused my teams trouble time and time again.
The set of people who take responsibility for everything is extremely small. For most people, there needs to be a clear understanding of what they should be responsible for. Having conversations and following up on a regular basis is fundamental to building responsibility in a team.
It’s also important to know the kinds of people on the team in order to effectively manage them. By assuming everyone is the type of person to take responsibility for everything, you gloss over reality. Knowing the skills and weaknesses of everyone on the team allows you to determine how to make them responsible for the projects the team works on.
The problem of spontaneous responsibility is one can be fixed through setting expectations and knowing the team. It takes a long time for a team to recover, but it is possible. Making sure that the team is always on the same page with what is expected of them makes for an effective, well-oiled team.
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