What Is Collective Responsibility?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Collective responsibility is a concept that has to do with the level of responsibility carried by members or partners in some type of undertaking. Typically, this type of responsibility does not focus on the degree of participation that each member contributes to the overall effort, or the position or rank of each person within the structure of the group itself. Essentially, collective responsibility holds that all participants in the group are held equally accountable for the outcome of the group’s efforts, both positive and negative.

The general idea of collective responsibility is somewhat similar to what is known as diffusion of responsibility, a situation in which the participants in a group are willing to jointly share accountability for the outcome of the group’s efforts, no matter what role each individual played in that outcome. With both approaches, the idea is to focus more on what occurred and less on assigning individual responsibility when that effort either fails or succeeds. This has the advantage of preventing individual personalities from dominating the outcome or the efforts of some members going unnoticed while others are singled out for taking specific courses of action that seem to be responsible for the outcome.


In terms of applications in a business setting such as a company operation or the function of a non-profit organization, collective responsibility requires accountability of all employees involved in a certain function or aspect of the operation. For example, if a project is undertaken involving a committee of six people, all six will be held jointly responsible for the outcome of that project. The project manager would not be singled out for rewards or to give an accounting of why a project failed. Everyone involved would share in the outcome, whether the result was considered positive or negative.

The broader application of collective responsibility means that people associated with a situation by some factor such as location may share the benefits or liabilities of an event, even if they were not directly involved in the activities surrounding it. For example, the residents of a community often benefit or are harmed in some manner by the actions of an official elected by that constituency, including those who did not vote for the official, or even chose not to vote at all. Regardless of how the community went about electing that individual, everyone in the community is affected by how he or she chooses to act while in that office.


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