According to a Harvard Business Review article, the whitespace of organizations is defined as: “the large but mostly unoccupied territory in every company where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear—and where, as a consequence, an entrepreneurial activity that helps reinvent and renew an organization takes place.” This no man’s land can be the terrain where the success of an organization ultimately depends.

You can think about the whitespace of organizations in terms of an organizational chart. On an org chart, you typically have a hierarchy of roles with straight or dotted lines and many different departments. If we assume these roles are well defined, the people in those roles know precisely what they are accountable for and what their deliverables are. Once they operate with integrity, delivering what is expected on time, then the whole system works. That is what such structures are designed for.

If only everything were that simple. Organizations, the people in them, and the markets within which they operate are complex and dynamic. As a result, inevitably much of the work required for success does not fall neatly within the roles in the org chart but in between these roles, in the white space. The question then becomes, who is accountable for this necessary work if it does not fall within the remit of anyone’s role? And that is where the real test is.

This is where responsibility comes in. When you have a combination of both accountability and responsibility you have a high-functioning organization. People who are willing to take the things that fall in the whitespace of organizations and independently declare of their own volition that they will be the ones who will take up the mantle and move things forward. The choice to be responsible is a personal decision and cannot be simply defined in the way the accountabilities of a role are and subsequently agreed upon. How you create an organization that is both accountable and responsible takes work and requires a fundamental shift in mindset. Once it is achieved within a group of people it is an unstoppable force for innovation and success.

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