Several posts in recent weeks have been exploring the dynamic of interactions that are at the heart of any collaborative effort, and this one continues on that theme.
It builds on the great work Manuel Küblböck has done in:
Reading Manuel’s post, it became quickly apparent to me that it contains some real gems. Yet something in the overall editorial and logical flow didn’t quite click for me (reminded me a lot of my grappling with the Heifetz book). So it took me longer than I expected to get to a distilled version. It’s still far from perfect, and I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic in the future, but it’s a better baseline to work from.
Manuel’s piece covers several topics:
- The distinction between accountability and responsibility
- The accountability process
- Reliable promises and predictable results
- The distinction between consequence and punishment
- Support & rescue
- Broken contracts
- Scaling accountability for multiple teams
- Pre-requisites for accountability
What is accountability and how does it work?
Collaboration is a network of people making promises for delivering certain results to each other. The promises make the results possible, but can never guarantee them.
When collaborators repeatedly uphold their promises, trust is established.
When trust is present, people interact with each other without cautious defense mechanisms that drain part of their energy and the collaboration becomes more and more effective.
However, when collaborators repeatedly don’t achieve the intended results, trust erodes and can easily turn into resentment.
Accountability is a refinement of the collaborative social contract that’s intended to help all parties involved maintain trust: the collaborator making the promise authorizes the other party to evaluate the result they’ll deliver, and enforce a logical consequence for that result. The consequence was ideally agreed-upon when the promise was made.
The key things to note here are the clarity on the role that accountability plays in supporting effective collaboration efforts, and its directionality: accountability is initiated by the collaborator that’s making the promise, authorizing the other party to hold them accountable.
Another powerful lever in delivering predictable results that reinforce trust is making reliable promises in the first place, which reduces the need to utilize accountability. Part of it has to do with being able to accurately assess our own level of skill/capability in regards to the particular result that we’re going to make a promise about. A notion that traces back to Andy Grove’s Task-Relevant-Maturity and most likely even further than that. But the other piece of that puzzle is being mindful of the level of predictability of the context in which we’ll be operating (inversely correlated to its complexity) which can also put a strong constraint on the type of result that we should be promising:
I find the distinction between these 4 types of results: input, output, outcome, and intention; and the way they interact with the context extremely powerful. Recognizing the relationship between result type and context type seems to be missing from many of the conversations around goals setting, accountability and effective collaboration.