How much are you responsible for when collaboration seems to fail?

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Justin Temblett-Wood

Written by Justin Temblett-Wood

How much are you responsible for when collaboration seems to fail?

There’s only one real way to know how strong a partnership is: failure. It’s when delays occur, ideas stumble and the first few breakdowns begin to rear their heads. That’s around the time when many organisations want to hit the pause button and say, “What the heck did we get ourselves into?” It’s also when many people start holding each other to account.


This kind of scene is at odds with Breakthrough Collaboration: where everyone involved is completely engaged, empowered and committed to an outcome, creating results that fly beyond what we could expect. 


So who’s to blame when results don’t seem to come?


Whether we’re talking about collaboration between organisations, teams or individuals within a team, the division of responsibility matters. But only because, really, we shouldn’t be dividing it at all.


Language matters here

 A lot of the time when we think of responsibility we’re actually thinking of accountability. Accountability is an agreement, usually to do with the division of labour, which is centred upon particular outcomes. It’s what we’re referring to every time we phone our internet provider if they’re not delivering the speed of connection they advertised.


Accountability has a place in life. Particularly in a relationship that isn’t founded upon trust. But when teams and organisations are going after Breakthrough Collaboration, when we have a shared commitment to a groundbreaking outcome, we need to trust people before they have earned it.


The other language problem we run into is that we can confuse responsibility with acting responsibly. Acting responsibly, while it has a place in our repertoire, is often an excuse to settle for a lesser outcome than the one we originally committed to as a team or partnership. Acting responsibly is the language of damage limitation, not the language of those seeking to make an impact.


Responsibility is, ultimately, the ability to respond. It’s a way of being that goes far beyond a list of responsibilities. It’s about taking ownership of an outcome, knowing the decisions you make today are responsible for the future.


So what is 100% responsibility about?

In Breakthrough Collaboration, all parties need to be 100% responsible for the outcome. Anything less leaves room for power imbalances, passengers and blame games. It’s not just a case of dividing everything down the middle, it’s not about making it equal, it’s about taking ownership of the problem as though you all belonged to the same party.


If we don’t have this attitude, we become concerned about the responsibility of others more than our own. We can demand that they should work faster, harder, longer - all in the name of taking 100% responsibility. But this is a distorted, perhaps dysfunctional version of the real thing.


Taking 100% responsibility should feel empowering, not like a guilt trip. When we take ownership of the outcome, we become motivated from within to take action and find a way forward - without worrying about how other parties may or may not respond in kind.


It’s what you do in a crisis

Although there are times when we need to clear the air for our own benefit, it’s irresponsible to voice complaints without turning it into a learning moment. Otherwise we just leave a sense of blame hanging in the room. What we need is a crisis attitude. 


In an operating theatre, surgeons don’t tend to gripe at one another. When a life is at stake, there’s no space for saying, “That’s not my task” when someone asks for an incision knife. Everyone is taking responsibility for what happens in the room. 


Similarly in a crisis, when you’re trying to save something, there’s no room for passengers. If your usual job is to simply to keep everything ticking over, it’s easy to settle into a comfort zone. But the minute everything is in jeopardy, we realise that everything we do matters.


It’s the same if we want to create a breakthrough result. We can’t entrench ourselves in the way we’ve always done things, fulfilling our side of the contract and no more. Taking 100% responsibility for the outcome enables us to take risks, to step beyond our sphere and to push through setbacks to generate possibilities. 

When this happens team-wide, organisation-wide or between partners, Breakthrough Collaboration is in effect, and breakthrough results soon follow. Check out our partnership and collaboration services or get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your ambitions.


Published 23/03/2021

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