Do you have ‘A’ responsibility, or ‘The’ responsibility? You need to know the difference.


07/06/2017 by Chris Green

An experienced Christian businessman once taught me a critical distinction: the difference between someone having a responsibility for something, and someone having the responsibility.  So simple, but it has stood me in good stead in countless team meetings, whether we are planning, or staring at some post-event wreckage.

Imagine a group planning an evangelistic evening.  Someone has to arrange the speaker, another person the publicity, then there’s the refreshments, the room set-up, the follow-up, the literature, and so on.  There are easily a dozen tasks to be done.

Now, each person in the room has a role to play, and has the responsibility for that part, and each of them also has a responsibility for the event being a success.  Everyone is necessary, and they are interconnected in their roles.  A well-run evening requires them all to do their bit, and they all feel invested in the event.  Each of them will feel let down if there’s a slip-up at some point.  That’s team.

And in addition, someone in the room needs to know that they have the responsibility for the whole.  To make sure all the lines of communication are running clear, an that no-one’s falling behind.

Someone in the room needs to know that they have the responsibility for the whole

And everyone else in the room needs to know who that one person is. Team captain.

I’ve just watched a small team have a bit of a wobble.  They didn’t crash – the event they planned went smoothly in the end, and no-one outside the team would have spotted that there was a problem.  But the reason for the wobble was that the person with the responsibility acted like they were just any other member of the team, and was absent without warning.  The result was that the rest of the team acted in a predictably confused way.  Who knew what the plan and process was? Who knew who had contacted whom?  In particular, had the absent person done their responsibilities? Who knew?

The key, of course, is good communication.  Had the team known about the absence they could have decided who instead had the responsibility.  Or they could have used a simple online planning tool like Asana so that person didn’t have to be in the room.  They could written a chart on a wall.

But the person with the  responsibility is the one who should have made that happen smoothly.  Instead, he acted like he was someone with a responsibility which could be done without.

And lacking that assurance, the team became nervous, irritable and a bit cross. Team spirit and Christian maturity kicked in,  and so that meant they did the extra mile and the event worked – but they shouldn’t have had to do the extra miling.

All of us have roles in the body of Christ which other people depend on – it’s how the model works.  And sometimes that requires is to identify that dependence and act on it responsibly.

So, when you’re in a meeting, planning a project, decide who has the responsibility for each element, and who has the responsibility for the whole.

And know that critical difference for yourself and your diary.

It makes for a happy team, and a functioning body.

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6 thoughts on “Do you have ‘A’ responsibility, or ‘The’ responsibility? You need to know the difference.

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Helpful & timely. I’m a big believer in team ministry but I’m persuaded by your argument for the need for one team captain. Back in the day this was Jesus (& the disciples were his team) and Paul (& his companions were his team) right?

  2. Jonathan Clark says:

    Perhaps the way I was taught about this in project management would make the language clearer. There is one person Accountable for the project/change/event. Multiple involved people can have Responsibility for different aspects of it. Further people might need to be Consulted about aspects of it, and a typically wider group still Informed about it. Perhaps ‘accountable’ is a scary word, particularly where we are operating with teams of volunteers, but I think that’s the concept you’re describing.

  3. Great post! I never thought about the difference between “a” responsibility and “the” responsibility.

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