The Question of Accountability

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
The next elephant in the room is the issue of accountability. If the hierarchical schema in Levels of Work (Requisite Organization) replaces power with accountability, then where does accountability lie in the schema of Teal?

There is an adage, if everyone is accountable, then no one is accountable. Sociologists describe this effect as diffusion of responsibility. Alex Lickerman describes “diffusion of responsibility manifests itself as the decreased responsibility each member feels to contribute and work hard towards accomplishing the task or goal. The diffusion of responsibility is present in almost all groups, but to varying degrees, and can be mitigated by reducing group size, defining clear expectations and increasing accountability.”

In Elliott’s world (Requisite Organization) accountability is clearly assigned to the manager. A manager is defined as that person held accountable for the output of the team. Note this is not a definition of power, but a definition of accountability.

In Teal, accountability is distributed to the group and the role of manager does not exist. By accounts, this arrangement works well with results even-steven or better than a team with a managerial leader held accountable for the output of the team.

I have little direct contact with organizations who adopt this approach (Teal), so my anecdotal observation is this – Teal probably works just fine, until it doesn’t. And, when it doesn’t, what are the circumstances or conditions that cause the mis-step? What can be done to get the team back in productive work toward the defined goal?

These musings alone beg more questions. Who defined the goal in the first place? Who floated the project to the group in the beginning? How did the group adopt or accept the project? This is not the invisible hand of Adam Smith. Some person started the organization. Some person defined the mission and vision of the organization. Some person provided guidance (for better or worse). At some point, there was a decision by some(one) person to make a move, commit resources, spend energy. This set of questions points to context. Who creates the context in which the team works?

The self-directed work group appears on stage, but who owns the stage. Are there invisibles in the background pulling the curtain, playing the music, fading the lights, advancing the payroll. And, when those things do not happen, what becomes of the stage-players?

Who is accountable for the output of this context – some(one), every(one) or no (one)?

For now, I will leave these as unanswered questions, no hurry. I am more interested in clarity than answers.

2 thoughts on “The Question of Accountability

  1. Mark Taylor, Vistage Master Chair

    Hi Tom,
    I know Frederic and am familiar with TEAL as well as Holocracy. These are evolved organizations, typically, without an “owner” interested in maximizing profit. They have a specific purpose, as declared in their governance. For example, in a organization running Holocracy, a group (circle) with specific responsibility, let’s say customer service, meets on a regular basis to discuss issues, challenges, and systems that are creating tension or not working. Within a meeting, changes are proposed and if agreed upon, implemented by the appropriate people. The person agreeing (making the promise) is accountable. Issues are brought up publicly and dealt with.

  2. Bruce Peters

    As always your post raises several of the cogent issues. In particular
    accountability and context setting are serious questions.
    As a student, observer and sometimes guide in working with Teal Org. has provided some insights that might be useful.
    As for “context” you are correct, of course, that most often the context particularly in the early stages of a business org. the context will come from “founder(s)” or as Laloux describes a “source(s). As you noted he described this a “Evolutionary Purpose” (EP) as one of the pillars of a Teal Org. Once established this serves sort of the direction of things, kind of like a compass.
    That is not to say the direction can’t be changed but most often the people joining the org. do so out of their individual commitment to the as Lee Thayer describes the “Cause. Context in teams to support the EP is distributed or resides throughout the org. in the places close enough to bring value to the actual work. This is accomplished through the creation of clear role descriptions, with perf. goals, plans for achieving, and performance success metrics for each functional category of required activities. All of this is transparent throughout the org. This makes the question of accountability built into the process and more peer based.
    Let me stop here as the length of this has gotten away from me.
    In a nutshell the concept of Teal is not to be structureless or for that matter leaderless. Rather, it is to have or create the structure and or leadership design to maximize individuals in support of the EP. If I read RO correctly the objectives are at least similar if not the same.
    My questions for you are given your extensive experience with Requisite
    how could you implement or gain the benefits of both. Is there a RO/Teal organizational version of OD that would not just be 1 plus 1 equally 2…. but equal much more.


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