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When a group as opposed to an individual is responsible for a job or task, and as a result the task does not get performed because everyone assumes that someone else will do it.

Is there a word or phrase to describe this?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The term I've heard in the workplace is diffusion of responsibility:

Diffusion of responsibility is a tendency of individuals in large groups to avoid taking action to correct a problem because they assume someone else will.

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The proverb I've heard for this is everybody's business is nobody's business. See here for more.

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Apparently not as common as I'd thought (less than 100 written instances using it as a noun phrase), the first term that came to mind was dissipated responsibility.

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Dissipated responsibility sounds like me after a drink or three. –  Gnawme Nov 23 '11 at 21:46
    
I did check thefreedictionary when I posted this. Before that I'd never known their first definition... 1 - Intemperate in the pursuit of pleasure; dissolute. 2 - Wasted or squandered. 3 - Irreversibly lost [energy]. To be honest, I always assumed dissipated heat was simply heat spread out so it wasn't in a single hot spot that might burn you. I'd never thought of it in terms of "irretrievably lost heat". But I guess for me the boozy associations were already colonised by dissolute. –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 21:58

This is a form of diffusion of responsibility.

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Inertia of the masses.

BTW that gets 1.26M hits on Google as an exact phrase - thanks to the wry physics reference methinks.

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1  
Physics as in "a crowd at rest tends to stay in the pub"? –  Gnawme Nov 24 '11 at 2:28
    
Surely "a mass of people at rest ..." or does that make me a pendant? –  MrTelly Dec 7 '11 at 11:21

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