How To Recognize And Handle The Dark Side Of Accountability

Written by Mike Shapiro | | October 26, 2017

Leaders have a tendency to romanticize about an organization where all the players know their roles and have a handle on the part each plays in team goals and objectives. It’s fun to talk about every person being “accountable” for everything in his corner of the universe, and “not letting any of her plates drop.”

It’s ok to have an org chart where it looks like everything’s covered. But it’s important to recognize that such a thing is more aspirational than real, and that betting the success of your organization on it is wishful thinking and just plain dangerous. Because try as you might, the areas of responsibility you’ve staked out aren’t perfectly contiguous.

Challenges, goofs, gaffes and foul-ups are bound to occur in the shadow-world — the inner spaces between the clearly-marked territories¬†you’ve carefully staked out. The way your people handle these inevitable exceptions to your role definition is a test of your team’s resourcefulness, adaptability, collaboration and teamwork.

That means you have to develop an awareness on the part of every team member to be on the lookout for these areas, and the ability to diagnose problems and access the right skills and perspectives from wherever they exist in the organization, quickly and effectively. Maybe most importantly, it requires that everyone be very good at resolving conflicts or turf battles that naturally come up along the way.

  • Anticipate the OVERLAPS — areas that lie within the responsibility of two or more team members. How are conflicts resolved quickly and without rancor when an argument can be made that responsibility could lie with either Brad’s or Brianna’s team?
  • Mind the GAPS — problems and challenges that don’t fit in either Brianna’s or Brad’s area? Who’s going to be on the lookout for these? Who steps in? What cues and messages does that person send out to others that says “I’ve got it?” How does that person ask for help from others once he or she sees what needs to be done?
  • Cultivate a BIG-PICTURE view. Getting the whole job done — the team’s project or assignment — takes precedence over everyone’s individual objectives. What happens when the project is in jeopardy because Brianna’s area is having trouble getting their work done on time and Brad’s people can’t start theirs until they get a hand-off from Brianna’s folks? Can some of Brad’s folks jump over the fence and pitch in to help her team get their job done on time?

Sure, you’ve spent a lot of time making sure your folks are clear on their roles and that they’ve pledged to be accountable for everything that goes on there. But getting your team’s assignment done right, on time and on budget will probably depend more on their ability and willingness to handle emerging issues outside or on the margins of their designated areas of responsibility.