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There is a certain amount of responsibility that exists in every family, friend group, or organization at any one moment. Think of this as a “weight” that must be borne for things to function properly. Whether it is a parent planning the entire winter vacation for his or her family, an executive team that is operating in an intense period of growth or decline, or a group of friends deciding what to do all weekend, in each of these scenarios there is a weight to be carried.

The default case is for the designated leader in the group to bear the majority of this weight. It could be from a sense of duty, a fear of asking for help, or just a plain old-fashioned sense of responsibility.

Transferring any of this weight must be done carefully. If it is handed over all at once or delegated in a haphazard way, it could overwhelm someone not used to handling that load. It needs to be given with plenty of context and support.

We’ve found at Next Big Sound that as we distribute the weight from the shoulders of the founders to a broader and highly competent team, that success and functioning improves tremendously. That said, while the load becomes lighter for the leaders that had traditionally borne the brunt of the responsibility, there are strange areas in the hand-off process that become warped and threaten stability.

The weight of responsibility is not so much like the iron weights at the gym that can be easily handed off and passed around gracefully.

It’s more like a giant water balloon filled with iron that seeps and drags and finds the spaces least prepared to handle it. It must be handled gently because if it is punctured, it could cause irreparable damage.

During the handoff certain executive team members may have to paradoxically carry more weight as others adjust. Individual contributors, exposed to the weight for the first time display lots of unintended symptoms and it can be a confusing, disorienting, and uncomfortable process. Cracks in the system appear either instantly, like the bursting of a dam or, become a slow liability over time like a leaky roof.

In spite of the risks, there is almost no scenario where this weight shouldn’t aim to be distributed in some form or fashion. Of course this exists along a spectrum but in its ideal case – it creates an anti-fragile family, friend group and team and allows everyone involved to shoulder some of the weight that ultimately impacts them.


This post was originally published on Alex’s blog

Alex White Alex White
Head of Next Big Sound @ Pandora (NYSE: $P). Board member @littlekidsrock. Soccer player and Maker’s Mark Ambassador. Alex graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelors of Science in Learning and Organizational Change. @mralexwhite