In the second of a series of articles about ten key points and the application of each point for culture development in sports, Jonathan Gibson of The Athlete Clinic writes about the importance of responsibility. The first of the series of articles published last week focused on commitment.

by Jonathan Gibson

Our definition of Responsibility is the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.

When one explores synonyms for responsibility words like authority, burden, duty, guilt, importance, liability, trust, obligation, power, restraint and more surface. In light of the number and importance of these synonyms, one can understand the value of responsibility, and its importance to the individual athlete and sports team. For the athlete we have Personal Responsibility and for the team, Collective Responsibility.

Personal Responsibility is defined as a person’s “response-ability,” that is, the ability of a person to maturely respond to the various challenges and circumstances in front of them and is also closely connected with character, where character is defined as a person’s moral or ethical quality. In team environments, managers must be aware of the individuals “response-ability” and strategically locate the individual within the team to best utilise the individuals response-ability.

Collective Responsibility is the ascription to a group or organisation of something to be done, of doing, or of answering to something done. Collective responsibility refers to arrangements appropriate for addressing goals, actions and success within the team by the team and it’s individuals.

The key components of the basic notion of collective responsibility are deeply rooted in the fabric of the culture within the team and it’s function as a unit. And the team is not just the athletes – Manager & Staff are part of this process.

Diffusion of Responsibility is a sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present. Considered a form of attribution, the individual assumes that others either are responsible for taking action or have already done so.

The phenomenon tends to occur in groups above a certain critical size and when responsibility is not explicitly assigned. It rarely occurs when the person is alone and diffusion increases with groups of three or more. The bystander affect will spring to mind for most.

This technique can be used in a positive application in sports. Attack from a cycling bunch and hope the bystander affect will work. Diffusion of responsibility can be used positively to affect outcomes in sporting events and also negatively. Team leaders and managers beware. Delegation tends to eliminate this effect. Direct the responsibility to an appointed individual.

Individual Responsibility is concerned with people taking individual accountability for their decisions and actions, together with the outcomes they create and their impacts on others. An individual responsibility can be the same for two people in a team, as opposed to a personal responsibility which is personal to only one person.

Maybe two riders have broken their bikes the day before an event. Both have the same individual responsibility to have the bike repaired for the following days event, but, will both have the same personal responsibility in dealing with the bike.

Lets look at what happens when one rider arrives at the start of a stage race with their bike broken and failing in their individual and personal responsibilities. Firstly, they have failed in their responsibility to themselves, and secondly to the team. The collective responsibility has been broken. They have not been responsible to the riders or staff.

If the staff mechanic does not have sufficient time to fully repair the bike, the individual will not be able to perform at his/her best to support the team. The ramifications from this lack of responsibility by the rider extend wider. Extra responsibilities are now loaded onto the mechanic and staff to correct the fallout from such actions.

In the other scenario with the other riders bike being broken, and then repaired, the rider has upheld their responsibility both individual and personal with no issues for the rider or team. Collective responsibility is solid. Within philosophy, the concept has been referred to as moral responsibility, although with a narrower focus on causal accountability for actions either undertaken or not undertaken.

Looking back at the discussed, different responsibilities above one can see the weight carried by such responsible duties. Inaction can result in an individual or team culture being widely affected and corrupted. Inactions generally result in the failure of a team, and in individuals in achieving goals. On the positive side, a team or individual with a culture founded on responsibility strives, grows and succeeds in its quest for goal attainment. This culture breeds success and collective responsibility. The collectiveness over powers those who lack responsibility. Responsibility is a Team Sport.


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