Who is responsible? Everyone!

Have you ever worked in an organisation where blame is assigned at every opportunity? When things go wrong, there is a desperate scramble to find the person in the team who is responsible for the failure. Once the culprit is found, everyone is satisfied that everythinga is resolved, and they move on to the next crisis when it arises.In this environment, nobody is taking responsibility for what has been created, except for the person who is saddled with the responsibility when things go wrong. The truth is that every person in the team who had a role to play in creating or perpetuating the problem is responsible for the outcome.

Taking responsibility

Responsibility is your ability to respond to situations. If you are in a meeting and you choose to not speak up about misgivings or concerns, your choice is your response. How many times do you leave a meeting and a colleague mentions their misgivings to you, but they did not say a word in the meeting? Do you advise them to say something to the right people or do you agree with them and contribute to the gossip in the corridor?

If everyone owned their responsibility in the organisation, team, meeting, or event, we would be able to find more innovative and collaborative solutions to problems. Blame would be cast aside because individuals would own their role in the collectively created outcome. You don’t have to necessarily act to be responsible.

When you perceive an organisation’s culture to be toxic, who is responsible? Is it the leader, the employees, Human Resources, or the management team? Taking responsibility is a collective effort. Everyone is responsible for the role they play in creating a toxic culture, whether through their behaviours, lack of self-awareness, fear, affinity to gossip, poor communication or contempt. The emergent culture is the result of the complexity of  interactions and non-interactions. In other words, how we choose to respond to the situations we are in and the roles we take on in those situations.

The Drama Triangle

In 1916 Stephen Karpman introduced the concept of the Drama Triangle. When we take on a role in the triangle, we must know that we are operating from a place of fear, blame and antagonism. The roles in the triangle are:

  • Victim: The colleague who is looking for sympathy from others for what is happening to them. They come across as helpless and will turn to others to rescue them, though often they don’t want to be rescued. They get attention for their ongoing struggles and incapacity to overcome hardship.
  • Villain: In the office environment, this is often a person with power – granted or assumed –  who is persecuting the victim and making their life miserable. They are not self-aware and believe their management behaviours are appropriate for the stressful environment they operate in. It could also be a colleague who is fiercely competitive or undermining.
  • Hero: The hero is the colleague or friend who sympathises with the victim and encourages them to feel justified in feeling sorry for themselves. Alternatively, the hero will step up on behalf of the victim, and fight the battle or do the work for them. They may also take on the victim’s responsibilities to make life easier for them.

When you take on a role in the drama triangle, it is not easy to get out and you will be caught up in a loop of unresolvable issues.

Fortunately, David Emerald Womeldorff came up with a transformative model in 2005 that is an antidote to the Drama Triangle. He proposed that we rename the roles and give them different descriptions, in essence, the complete opposite of the Drama Triangle. He called this the Empowerment Dynamic. In this model the roles are as follows:

  • The creator: The victim becomes the individual who takes responsibility for the situation they find themselves in. Whether this is by allowing the villain to persecute them, not standing up for themselves or choosing to stay in a work environment that is causing them distress. With this vantage point, they seek solutions and create a different outcome for themselves in these situations.
  • The challenger: The villain transcends into the challenger. They create situations and opportunities that challenge the creator to find alternative solutions to overcome the discomfort. The challenger helps the creator grow and learn from their experience.
  • The coach: Instead of sympathizing and rescuing the victim, the hero becomes the coach who encourages and supports the creator to face the challenger on their own. The coach believes in the creator and trusts that he will find the solution that is best for him, and he will grow stronger because of the experience. The coach asks the right questions and supports the creator’s efforts through encouragement and positive regard.

    Building responsible, collaborative communities

    When we move away from the blame game and everyone owns their contribution to what has been created, a collaborative community can start to emerge – one where everyone gets together, acknowledges their role, and then works together to find win-win solutions. People are not afraid to speak up or point out when the Drama Triangle is threatening to reemerge.  Gossip in the corridor is eliminated if everyone chooses not to participate, and rather encourages open, honest communication.

    For this to happen, we need to encourage mindful leadership. Where leaders and individuals are brave enough to receive honest feedback and to change. We also need to understand that there are different perspectives to the problems and situations we find ourselves in. A wonderful tool to bring about this understanding is CoreStrengths. It provides a common language to understand motives, conflict sequences and strengths in members of the team. This common language allows for deeper, meaningful discussions, which shine a light on our difference and our commonalities.

    So, who is responsible? We all are.