If you want to be successful in your career, there’s no concept of “that’s not my job.”

Last week, I was in Miami giving a talk on the importance of cross-functionality in an office and how a highly cross-trained staff can provide a competitive edge in today’s rapidly-evolving economy.

A key part of my message was emphasizing how successful companies have an all-hands-on-deck mentality where no one person sits alone in a silo. Individuals may have assigned tasks and dedicated responsibilities, but at the end of the day everyone’s job ultimately boils down to one thing: meeting a mission.

In an unfortunate--yet timely--twist of fate, I encountered that dreaded “that’s not my job” mentality just hours after stepping down from the podium.

When I was waiting at the Miami Intermodal Center, the ground transportation hub to get to the Miami International Airport, alongside an unusually-large crowd of travelers, a marginally-intelligible voice came over the loud speaker and mumbled something to the effect of “the train is currently not operating.”

After several minutes passed, an illuminated sign informed us the train was no longer in service. With no further instructions, the crowd started to become confused and a bit restless. Amidst the commotion, I noticed that a small group of TSA officers who had also been waiting for the train were heading towards the exit. As they passed, people started asking them what to do. The first response from an officer was “didn’t you hear the announcement?” Without any further elaboration, he continued toward the exit.  

Although I was a bit annoyed at what I heard, I still figured following them was my best bet. I caught up to them just as they were approached by a uniformed man who appeared to be some sort of facility administrator or staffer for the hub. The TSA agents told the staffer they were trying to get to their posts to which the staffer replied the airport would likely send a bus. After a brief conversation about their options, the agents had formulated their plan to their airport and the staffer walked away.

Not one of these individuals took a moment to share this information with the 30 or so time-strapped travelers eagerly following them around like ducklings following their mother. This was a classic moment exemplifying a “that’s not my job" mentality. 

The mandate of the TSA is airport security, and most would agree this is a mission they have and continue to execute quite well. However, this does beg the question: Is it safe to have a large group of confused and frustrated travelers wondering around an airport facility seeking out ways to get to the airport on their own, some of whom had children and elderly accompanying them? I would argue no, in which case it should be the responsibility of any present uniformed TSA officer to step up and find a solution.

As a veteran traveler, these hiccups don’t bother me too much. It’s part on life on the road. And to be clear, I generally think the TSA does a great job. What got me here was the reaction and ensuing inaction of these TSA officers

Here’s the lesson from this situation: It can be easy to get so caught up in the specific tasks of our job that we forget the mission. Businesses ebb and flow, they have to in order to be successful and adapt to any given situation, and that means workers also have to be flexible. Everyday workers should ask themselves: Am I doing everything I can to meet my goals and company’s mission?  

P.S.  For those wondering, I did make my flight, but being a former government consultant, I feared the government option would likely be too inefficient and time consuming to actually get me to my gate on time. So naturally, I opted for the private solution, an $8 cab ride. I can only hope the mass of travelers eventually found their way to their destinations safely and securely.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and the new on-line course The YOU Plan for Career Change on Udemy. Dr. Woody is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership. Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook.