That Is Not My Job

The “not my job” approach to work is one of the five most common team-busting habits, and based on a study by VitalSmarts, 97% of employees are guilty of exercising that  habit on a regular basis.

That brings to mind a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. I am not sure who originally came up with this story, but I thought it was neat. There was an important job to be done, and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

This hit close to home when I noticed that there were coffee cups lined up by the Keurig coffee maker.  I asked what was up, and the response I got was, the Keurig is out of water.  The water pitcher was empty next to the machine, the reservoir was empty, and the little blue light was on saying, please add water.  Since I wanted coffee, I filled both the reservoir and pitcher and made a cup.  As soon as I did that, people started to head to the coffee machine.

I was headed out to the deck with my coffee and thought this was worthy of some thought.  I wondered how many times a worker walked past a printer that needed paper or a coffee pot that needed water.  This behavior seems to go beyond the chance encounter.  I have been busy working on a project when a co-worker would ask, can you get me a pencil, paper clip, or whatever.  To do that, I have to stop what I am doing and get a pencil.  I have talked to several staff members that have seen this and done it themselves.  The most common opinion is that my job is not as important as their job.

At least two things are going on here.  The first is, no planning.  There is often no awareness that they need a pencil, or they just assume that there will always be a pencil available.  I have seen staff take supplies from a desk instead of walking to the supply cabinet.  Next, there is this importance thing.  You may feel that your job is important, and you may also have no concept of what other team members are working on. Either way, you feel that the job you are doing is at the top of the list.

Over time I have come to believe that it is a lack of knowledge about what is needed. Many times, it is due to a lack of experience.  Sometimes it is ego-driven, and it is not so easy to solve that problem.  Not everybody is a team player.  I also found that often people looked good on paper and were very skilled, but just had no street smarts. There is a place for these types, but not as a member of most teams.  I was taught to move them out and focus on team dynamics.

If the problem is a lack of experience, you can address that within the team.  If you see or hear about a “not my job” attitude, weed it out.  You do not want a poor attitude to spread, and second, it is a violation of the core values established for the team and the business.

I need a break, so I am getting some water for the coffee machine as soon as I put some paper in the printer.  Next week we can talk about enabling and delegation. Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at