The True Meaning of the Word “Responsibility” in an Agile Team

Responsibility is typically defined as “the state of having a duty to deal with and take care of something.” And, while this definition may be the most common, it’s not the most important when it comes to Agile.

Let’s break it down. Looking at the root words in “responsibility,” we get to what really matters: your Response Ability. Responsibility in Agile isn’t about duty, it’s about your ability to respond to new circumstances and shifting priorities. 

It’s a simple fact that when your ability to respond to unforeseen snags and hiccups improves, you’ll be given more responsibilities.

Responsibility in a Scrum Team

How does your ability to respond impact a Scrum or Agile team?

Let’s take a look at the roles in a Scrum Team to find out. A solid Self-Organizing team has specific Roles assigned to one person on the team, or a group of people. As you know, Scrum teams have three distinct roles: The Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Development team.

Each of those roles has certain responsibilities associated with it. For example, it’s the responsibility of the Product Owner to maximize the business value delivered through the product. The PO needs to be able to respond continuously to the shifting factors that impact value in the business overall.

React vs. Response-ability in Agile

Of course, the PO isn’t the only member of the Scrum Team that needs to cultivate an ability to respond to change. Every role needs to be able to adapt, and that comes from knowing the difference between reaction and responding.

When you react to something, you’re likely acting impulsively, following your first emotional response, and seeing where it takes you. Reactions are often based on feelings of panic, anxiety, or anger –all emotions that can cloud your judgment and lead to errors and miscommunications.

“When you respond to something, instead of merely reacting, you’re acting from a place of consideration, knowledge, and positivity.”

On the other hand, when you respond to something, you’re likely acting from a place of consideration, knowledge, and positivity. Those who respond to situations instead of reacting wait until they have all the facts before action, leading to more consistent value delivery and smoother work processes.  

It’s Your Responsibility in Agile to Respond

Part of what makes Agile and Scrum such powerful tools for getting things done is that they help workers roll with the punches. Mastering the ability to take considered action to rapidly-shifting circumstances is essential for every member of a Scrum team. 

Photo courtesy of Matt Chesin.

If you’ve noticed that a member of your team is always in reacting mode, he may not be able to carry out his responsibilities properly and should be made aware of this fact so that he can improve his performance. Get in touch with a Scrum coach to see how reactions could be upgraded to responses.

In an Agile framework or Scrum team, reacting is simply not enough. You’ve got to assess change in an instant and respond accordingly.

That’s the true meaning of “responsibility.”

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