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Why is the Responsibility so Essential for Success of an Agile team?

Agile is one of the most applicable methodologies in IT industry. Some companies have already implemented it, others are in the process of transformation. Though numerous experts regard Agile as the best way to manage projects, the process of its implementation is not an easy task. There are a lot of things that should be done before you can say that your company has implemented Agile successfully.

One of the common mistakes the companies make during Agile transformation is that they think more about processes than people. They spend most of the time training people to implement new processes and talking about specific ceremonies, like daily stand-up, planning, retro, demo. Managers split employees into teams, and then use tools to measure how well these new teams follow new ceremonies and new processes.

What they often forget, that is important to help employees adapt to the new reality. Striving to follow best practices, companies skip the explanations on becoming self-organizing and cross-functional, as the Scrum guide states.

After the implementation of Agile, quite often the employees realize that their performance and bonuses depend on the performance of the whole team. What is more interesting is the fact that there is no boss in the team who is in charge for the low performance of the team. Who is in charge then?

The team is responsible.

The whole team is responsible. This means that each team member is responsible for the overall team’s results. Therefore, the requirements for the Agile team members are very high. They should be skilled, very disciplined and motivated. In addition to that, they should understand what the responsibility means and how to build the relationships within the team, the entire organization or a group of partner companies. If your team members don’t understand how to be responsible, you would spend a lot of time in meetings trying to find out who’s at fault, rather solving the problems.

Therefore, we should train the people to be responsible. One of the ways to do it is the Responsibility Process.

What is the Responsibility Process?

The concept was invented by Cristopher Avery.The Responsibility Process shows how the mind processes thoughts about taking or avoiding responsibility. This approach could become the tool to understanding, taking and teaching personal responsibility.

Here is a good example that explains it.

A critical team member forgot to do some important task that had been assigned to him.  

Denial. This is the level of refusing that something has happened. “No, I couldn’t forget it!”

Lay Blame. This is the state when you try to blame someone else. “You hadn’t sent me the meeting notes, so I forgot about the task.

Justify. This is an attempt to lay blame on all natural or even supernatural powers we can imagine. You are trying to justify that there was no other way.  “It was a very hard day, everything was against me, I caught a cold and so on…Because of all that, I forgot about the task”.

Shame. The state when you are blaming yourself. This is a step towards the responsibility because you at least admit that something is your fault. However, it’s not a good state to stuck in. “I’m so stupid! I forgot to do this. I’m very ashamed. You shouldn’t delegate anything to me.”

Quit. All the states mentioned above are the attempts to quit and not solve the problem.

Next are the cases show the problem-solving approach.

Obligation. This state could also be named as Accountability. When you feel that you have to do something, but for some reasons, you don’t really want to do. This is the obligation. You may have different obligations towards the boss, team, or yourself. So, you are ought to fix the problem, but don’t really want to. “Guys, I forgot to do this task. So, I have to work on the weekend. It will be my son’s birthday, but I have to work.”

Responsibility.  This is the highest level. You don’t pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, you don’t put on blame on something, somebody or yourself, you are not going to fix it only because you have some obligation. You just try to understand the problem, find the way to fix it and do so. Do you remember the famous Nike slogan “Just do it”? It’s a good fit for this description. “Guys, I forgot to do the task. I plan is to finish my current tasks earlier and take that task 3 in progress. I’ll try to do it on time.

Every person has a certain level of responsibility in specific areas of life. For example, you can be on the Obligation level at work, you’re always Responsible with your kids, and you on Shame level in your personal life. Also, you can change the levels. This approach gives you the opportunity to understand on what level you are. This is the first step toward the desired level. So, the Responsibility Process model is designed to teach people how to be responsible.

Of course, the responsibility is crucial for the Agile team. If you created a high performing team that operates with true responsibility, there would be no need for accountability. From now on the team is truly responsible.


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