Responsibility Charting

By Constance B. Wolf.

From time to time a process comes along that is simple and elegant at the same time.

The work of Richard Beckhard and Reuben Harris yielded such a process called Responsibility Charting.


This process is designed to help bring clarity to the roles and responsibilities of people who work together. It is often used when work involves solving problems or making decisions. It is also a way to ensure clarity of roles when engaged in work processes that cross various departments, organizations or stakeholders. Managers or team leaders might guide this process themselves or use a facilitator/ consultant to assist them.

The Process Tool

The final tool consists of a form (see exhibit 1) that lays out

* a list of actions, decisions or activities that need to be performed on the vertical axis, * the various players who will interact or be involved in the work on the horizontal axis.

* the required behavior of each person towards a particular activity

The Process

Step 1. Identify the people whom you wish involved in the process. These may include just the key players themselves, only their managers, or all the people who will be impacted by the decisions made.

Step 2. Working together, brainstorm the activities , actions and decisions related to the work that the people do where some roles inter-relate or which have some interdependence. List these on the vertical axis.

Step 3. Working individually, each person identifies the people who have some behavior towards each action or decision and lists these across the top horizontal axis. These may include those directly involved, bosses of those involved, groups, people inside or outside the organization.

Step 4. Individually , insert the desired behavior of each person towards a particular activity using the following codes:

R = Responsibility to see that actions or decisions occur. Ideally, there should only be "1" R

given per activity line

A = Approval of actions or decisions with right to veto

S = Support of actions or decisions through provision of work effort or resources, but

with no right to veto.

I = Informed of action or decision but with no right to veto.

There may also be times when a person has no role in the activity and therefore a dash is used or the space is left blank.

Steps 3 and 4 may be done as a separate activity outside of the meeting itself. Or, individuals can work alone for awhile or in small groups within a longer meeting.

Step 5. Coming together in a larger meeting, the people involved share their individual perceptions and begin the process of consensus decision making on how each box in the chart should be designated. Initially, a majority vote is not a good solution. Differences should be examined and resolved. Consensus decision making does not require full agreement, but rather a commitment to follow the final decision of the team or group.

In using "consensus decision-making", a fallback decision-making process, to which all agree, should be declared beforehand. These might include:

* leader makes the decision

* a small group makes the decision

* majority rule

* the experts make the decision


The usefulness of Responsibility Charting lies not only in the clarification of roles and responsibilities or the final end product chart. The other major benefits often include:

* greater understanding of how work is done

* appreciation of the problems faced by peers

* clarifying who else is available to support one’s needs

* eliminating redundancies and areas where one need not be involved at all

And finally, taking a team or group through this process is a way to strengthen relationships across stakeholders such as staff, leadership, team members or those in other departments..

The final chart can become a working document that is referred to often when questions arise, differences occur or problems need resolution.

Responsibility charts can be done at various levels in the organization wherever clarity would be helpful. whether at the Executive level, staff level or within departments or projects.


Exhibit 1:

         Individuals:       Joe  /  Ted  /  Mary  /  Sue




___3___________\___S___/_A ___/__R___/____I_______


* * * * *

Connie Wolf is president of Sounding Board®, a service of CBW, Inc. She holds a master's degree in Organization Development and is a graduate of Coach University and the Gestalt Therapist Training Program. She is the creator of the Sounding Board® approach to professional coaching and consulting and can be reached at  or 480-607-1960.