What is a good phrase or analogy, similar to passing the buck?
November 20, 2013 10:11 PM   Subscribe

An angry client emails a partner at a law firm about an expensive court filing. The partner responds "oh, don't worry, we'll look into this and take care of it." He cc's his secretary, the associate who drafted the filing, the associate's secretary, the paralegal, and the accounting clerk in charge of billing. Being at the top of the food chain, the partner immediately assumes that the associate will take care of it, and the partner's secretary assumes the same. The associate assumes that since the paralegal prepared the documents, including the itemized fee transmittal, that she'll handle it. Meanwhile, the paralegal figures that since the associate's secretary was the one in charge of electronically filing the document and selecting the fee options online, that it was probably an error on her end, and that she'll look into it. The associate's secretary assumes that since the accounting clerk is the only one with authorization to view and reconcile the charge account online, that she'll handle it. Last but not least, the accounting clerk brushes it off, as she works in accounting, not preparing and filing legal documents. Aside from passing the buck, what is a good term, phrase or analogy to describe this circular, dysfunctional work dynamic that occurs when a dozen people are cc'd on the same email? Everyone assumes someone else will take care of a problem, and in the end, the problem is never addressed.
posted by invisible ink to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bystander effect?
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 10:12 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Circular firing squad?
Hot potato?
posted by XMLicious at 10:17 PM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

To assume, which everyone in the scenario you described does, is to make an

ASS    U    ME
  out of    &
posted by carsonb at 10:18 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:27 PM on November 20, 2013

Best answer: This is called Diffusion of Responsibility.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:31 PM on November 20, 2013 [26 favorites]

Reminds me of when, in baseball, two to three players watch a fly ball land between them because nobody calls "I got it." There's no term I can find for this though.
posted by salvia at 10:33 PM on November 20, 2013

When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:52 PM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agree with Multifacteted In my organization we use the term "dysfunctional diffusion of responsibility" and it is something management is explicitly told to prevent. Because, as Alaska Jack says, when everyone is responsible, nobody is.
posted by rpfields at 11:34 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Instead of having to say cluster fuck at work people just say "cluster".
posted by bleep at 4:08 AM on November 21, 2013

Another way of expressing what happened rather than the organisation in which it happened is "slipping between the cracks of an organisation."
posted by MuffinMan at 5:05 AM on November 21, 2013

We say "CF" where I work, and we all know what THAT means.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:15 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is (or isn't) doing.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:23 AM on November 21, 2013

Also heard Charlie Foxtrot used. Diffusion of responsibility sounds more like the mechanism at play, CF sounds more like the end result.

When assuming that someone else is going to handle it, an ass is made of you and Ming. And no one makes an ass of Ming the Merciless! Flashbacks of Flash should now keep you and others from contributing to a future encore.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:25 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:26 AM on November 21, 2013

Poor communication.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:53 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreed with those who said Diffusion of Responsibility.
posted by mekily at 6:00 AM on November 21, 2013

Also relevant: social loafing, "the phenomenon of people deliberately exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:01 AM on November 21, 2013

Defining the "we".

IMO, the partner who wrote the original email is at fault because he said "we'll take care of it" without specifying who "we" is. It's ok to cc a lot of people on an email as long as you put lines inside the text saying "Alice, please follow up on this" or "Jack, please research and get back to me by Thursday".
posted by CathyG at 8:28 AM on November 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

Defining the "we".

Yep. To me "Diffusion of responsibility" would be when no one responds to the client because everyone assumes someone else will. Once someone picked up the ball, it's on them to be responsible.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:34 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The phrase I use to describe that problem is "you call 911" because in emergencies several people will all exclaim "call 911" and everyone assumes someone has. By saying "you call 911" ownership is assigned.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shit flows downhill when you kick the can down the road.

The issue seems to be that nobody bothered to define the problem and then state it clearly to the next echelon above. Managerial issues are in play here.
posted by mule98J at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2013

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