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Demonstrating Responsibility

August 4, 2010

Just about a year ago I attended the Agile 2009 conference in Chicago where I had the opportunity to take part in a half-day workshop with Christopher Avery. It was here that I was first exposed to his Responsibility Process which inspired me to write the post Operating from Above the Line shortly after. I was hoping to run a similar workshop at Point2 to demonstrate Avery’s idea, but I couldn’t garner enough interest from a large enough group to make it worthwhile.

Fast forward a year and coincidentally enough Avery’s Responsibility Process came up as a topic during a staff engagement workshop championed by our Director of Human Resources. As it turned out some of the Responsibility Process posters also started showing up on walls throughout the office, but without context people didn’t know what to think of them.

Following the staff engagement discussion I was approached to run a workshop that would help to demonstrate the Responsibility Process to our Sales, MLS, and Syndication teams. I was very excited to do this and planned to fashion it after Avery’s effective Agile 2009 workshop. It’s easy to get the gist of the Responsibility Process by reading about it, but the true benefit is seeing it in action.

The idea is to get people to work on a difficult task as a group that will likely result in failure, and keep track of behaviour during the exercise. For this particular workshop we had ten people so I split them up into two groups of four. The remaining two were to be my observers.

  • The Builders’ Job: build a ten story, free standing structure using only a deck of cards and a small amount of fun tack in fifteen minutes.
  • The Observers’ Job: listen to the builders and take notes of any phrases that sounded negative.

Anyone who has tried to build a house of cards probably knows that reaching ten stories is nearly impossible. One group managed to get to seven, while the other group’s unorthodox design proved to be….well, good in theory. But as you guessed the point of the exercise was not to actually build a structurally sound building, but to surface behaviour that fit into the different states of mind on the journey to responsibility.

  • Lay Blame
  • Justify
  • Shame
  • Obligation
  • Responsibility

Here are some examples of the phrases that were recorded by our observers.

  • I already know who’s fault this is.
  • We don’t have the right materials
  • Someone else do it. I’m too scared to go on.
  • We don’t have enough time.

After writing each of the phrases recorded by the observers on a whiteboard I started to explain each of the states of mind of the Responsibility Process. Once everyone had a basic understanding we grouped each phrase into its appropriate state. Some were easy to categorize while others were more difficult which in turn spawned some excellent debate. What I found to be the most beneficial was real life examples brought forward by some as to when they may have been in one of these states recently.

We left the workshop understanding the premise behind Avery’s Responsibility Process, but were aware that this was only the first step. As individuals it is up up to us to make the effort in identifying our states of mind when we encounter conflict, and do what we can to move as quickly as possible to the next level. Now having ten people at Point2 aware of the Responsibility Process, we could lean on each other for support when learning to identify what state we were operating in. And as a company having as many people operating from above the line seems like the responsible thing to do.

By Hemant J. Naidu

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