Most Teams are Functional, Few are Accountable

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.
What’s the difference between a group of people, a team (functional team) and an accountable team? Give any group of people a problem to solve, a decision to make, a goal or objective and a dramatic transformation begins from a group to a team.

Think about any high performing team you were ever a member of, and think about these defining characteristics.

Characteristics of a Team (Functional)

  • Clear and agreed upon purpose.
  • Key measures that indicate if team is on track.
  • Competent system.
  • Competent people.
  • Shared fate (what happens to one happens to all).

Functional teams are found everywhere. What is the difference between a functional team and that rare accountable team?

An accountable team is a functional team that manages its own accountability.

Could this be the team dynamic that Laloux describes at Buurtzorg? My intuition tells me that Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams are one and the same as Jaques‘ accountable team. The dynamics in the design of Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams become clear in the light of Jaques’ accountability schema.

If we can temporarily set aside “who?” is accountable and focus only on how accountability is managed, we find alignment between Buurtzorg’s self-managed team and Jaques’ accountable team. And if there is alignment at the team level, could there also be alignment at the manager level, though Buurtzorg would declare there is no manager. I think I can put those two pieces together in my next post.
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One thought on “Most Teams are Functional, Few are Accountable

  1. L.J. Lekkerkerk (Hans)

    Tom: What is the difference between a functional team and accountable team?
    I think:
    Functional sounds like the team is part of a functional, activity based division of work. This implies that many teams contribute a tiny bit to most, if not all customer orders. So there are a lot of interfaces in this relay-race, very likely the baton will fall at some handover. Being held accountable in such a chain, let alone have a meaningful degree of self-management is not realistic.
    Accountable teams, can only be just that when they have an end-to-end responsibility for a complete customer orderprocess. This implies a customer/product/market based division of labour. Interfaces between teams are ‘thin’, only when mutual support or advice is needed. So it is their autonomy that serves as a condition for accountability. The advantages of autonomous teams are already available without adding self-management.


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