11. Diffusion of Responsibility

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Today's lesson is about responsibility: Yours, mine, and what happens when it's not clear.

Imagine walking down a crowded city street. Suddenly, an old man clutches his chest and falls to the ground. He's having a seizure. Several passersby look at him. No one stops. No one calls for help. People look, but keep walking. Psychologists call this phenomenon the “diffusion of responsibility”. It means individuals are less likely to feel personally responsible when others are around.

In a group, no single individual feels like it's their job to respond. Each person likely thinks, “Oh, I’m sure someone has already called for help,” or, “No one else is helping—it must not be serious.”

Diffusion of responsibility often occurs in groups when responsibility has not been explicitly defined. In traditional companies, where job descriptions are often vague and out-of-date, and many people rely on implicit expectations to get things done, diffusion of responsibility is high.

In organizations powered by Holacracy, ownership is clearly defined through the roles' purposes and accountabilities.

It's explicit so you know exactly what you're responsible for and what you can rely on from others. And this continues to evolve through the Governance process.

Keep in mind that you can rely on the Governance records in GlassFrog to provide explicit responsibilities. So, look at Governance often.

Remember, your habit is simply to clarify references to “we”. The clearer you get about “we”, the more likely you and your organization will be able to respond to the needs and opportunities around it.