Behaviorists Without Children

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.
My last post on Accountability and Authority kicked up a question. Here’s the context. Buurtzorg works with self-managed teams at Level II (S-II). These teams of 10-12 nurses handle the intake, scheduling and administration of their own patient load of approximately 50 patients. There is no “visible” manager assigned to hold them accountable. Here is the question –
Can a person (or a role) hold themselves accountable?
Can a person (or a role) hold another person accountable?

Before I mince words, what is the purpose of accountability? Is it to give someone, with the authority of oversight, the power to scold an under-performer against the wall? Oh…so momentarily satisfying, but what’s the point?

The only people, who think that anger and yelling has an impact, are behaviorists who have no children. If you have children, you know it is futile to raise your voice, repeat your guidance (if I told you once, I told you a thousand times).

The point of accountability is to assess effectiveness toward the goal and re-direct new energy to get back on track.

In the face of under-performance, the point is to fix it.

The only person who can hold you accountable is YOU. Invite and give permission to others to examine and challenge your commitments, AND understand that you are the only one who can keep those commitments. The only accountability is self-accountability.

We cannot hold people accountable, we can only hold people “to account.”

This is not a nuance of language. Holding others accountable is a myth. We cannot hold others accountable. We can only examine and challenge commitments. We can only hold people “to account,” to themselves for the commitments they make with themselves.

This accountability conversation (constructive criticism, reprimand, coaching) about commitments is necessary because the easiest commitments to break are those we make with ourselves that no one knows about. Praise in public, coach in public. Any issue that impacts the team needs to be handled by the team.

Would Buurzorg call this self management?

The accountability conversation, by the team, with the team, is pure Wilfred Bion. With this post as a prelude, perhaps we should look at Bion’s Experiences in Groups next. It might give us an insight about the team accountability dynamics inside Buurtzog.
Wilfred Bion was part of the collective clan around Elliott Jaques during his tenure with the Glacier Metals Company, London, England, circa 1950’s.

2 thoughts on “Behaviorists Without Children

  1. Bruce Peters

    I came to the work of Laloux and Teal with a background as you’ve described of Bion, Jaques, Goldratt, Harvey and the privilege of working directly with Lee Thayer. As you are uncovering and exploring there are significant interrelationships between these that seem fundamental to unlocking individual potential in the context of the interdependencies.
    My intuitions and experience in the “Ground Game Of Teal” were seeking how to pull all this and these rich foundational concepts together. If you will keep going with Bion’s it will help close the loop or circle. Looking forward to learning more.

  2. Dave Hultin

    I keep looking at this series through the lens of the Entrepreneurial Operation System (EOS, which we adhere to at my company.

    > We cannot hold people accountable, we can only hold people “to account.”

    I believe this matches up with the EOS way of evaluating people to see if they are the right person for the right seat in the organization. Part of that evaluation is to determine if that person matches up the company’s core values. The other part centers around these three questions: “Do they get it? Do they want it? Do they have the capacity to do it?” Those are questions that need to be answered ABOUT the person being evaluated, but ultimately can only be answered BY the person being evaluated.

    If I’m understanding this post correctly, that’s similar to the difference between “accountable” and “to account”.

    Lots of good information in these posts, as always!!!


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