Accountability for Effective Teams

Accountability is about performance and behavior.

Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

Accountability for measurable outcomes is “not the most important kind.” It’s the easy kind.

you didn’t make your numbers for three quarters in a row. You’re fired.

The kind [of accountability] that is more fundamental, important, and difficult is about behavior.

Lencioni, The Advantage

It’s fundamental because behavior is what we can legitimately ask someone to change. Business outcomes aren’t under our control; we aim to influence them.

Accountability for behavior is important is because it’s what leads to later outcomes. If our goal is to give customers more value this quarter, then waiting for then end and blaming a person for our failure doesn’t help. Suggesting paths more in line with our collective goals, that might.

It’s difficult because it’s personal.

Accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction.

Lencioni, The Advantage

There’s no nice, objective number to point to. This is my opinion.

My team has been blocked for a week on a PR review in your part of the code. Your focus only on your own deliverables is not helping our collective goal.

As an opinion, this kind of accountability is not an edict, but an opening for discussion.

The person most qualified to review that is on vacation this week. Sorry for not communicating that. I’ll ask her to look at it first thing Monday.

Which gets to an older meaning of accountability: to hold to account, where an account is an explanation.

I can’t guarantee to increase engagement with my widget by 0.5% by the end of the quarter, but I can tell you what I tried that didn’t work; some other factors that influenced customer behavior in this time; and some ideas of what we might try next, if we still think this particular outcome is important enough to spend more time on.

This accountability-to-understand is compatible with systems in ways that accountability-for-outcomes is not. If your job depends on moving a number, you’ll move that number, even if it puts your widget in everyone’s way and pisses off customers. If your job depends on the whole business succeeding with your contributions, then you’ll make your widget compatible with its surroundings, and highlight it in ways that improve the product.

Hold people accountable for performance and behavior: expect them to care, to understand what’s going on, and to behave in ways that work toward our collective goals and the decisions we’ve committed to.

When your teammates violate these expectations, talk to them. Now, not at the end of the quarter. Peer-to-peer, not indirectly. In your team (usually), not backchannel; these conversations are tough, but they are not shameful. And then listen for new information.

Accountability as threats 😡 no!
Accountability as sharing rich information 😍 yes!