Category Archives: Accountability

A Strong Excuse to Procrastinate

“That was the missing link,” said Jeremy. He explained his meeting with Sylvia. As suggested, he went back to outline the list of next steps for the project he had assigned to her.

“Even Sylvia was relieved,” Jeremy explained. “She agreed. The reason she did not start the project was that she was never clear on what to do first, so she procrastinated. The simple process, to clarify the next steps made all the difference.”

“And how many steps in this project?” I asked.

“Five simple little steps. But until we laid them out, the project was going to sit until it was too late.”

“When will you follow-up on the five steps?”

“Friday, at 3:00pm. At least I learned that lesson, to calendar my follow-up meetings. We will see how she does.”

All in all, it was a good week.

Next Step

Jeremy was not excited after his first project follow-up meeting.

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“Well, I thought by scheduling follow-up meetings, the project would start happening and show some progress. I just finished the first follow-up meeting and found out the project hasn’t started yet. I am still in the same boat as last week.”

“What do you think the problem is?”

Jeremy’s mind was searching for a directional clue. “I don’t know. Sylvia said she was having trouble getting started, but was sure that by Friday, we would see some progress.”

“What does progress mean?” I continued to probe.

Jeremy was puzzled by the question. “Well, you know, she will have started.”

“What is her first step to getting started?”

Jeremy hesitated. His response was only going to be a guess. I stopped him.

“Jeremy, don’t feel bad. This is typical of projects not laid out clearly. She hasn’t started the project because she doesn’t know what the next step is. Heck, you don’t know what the next step is.

“Have you ever had a project that you found difficult to get started. But once you got rolling everything was fine. What caused you to stutter is that you had not defined the next step. Understanding the power of the next step will give you a clue on how to get project rolling. For now, you need to have an interim emergency meeting with Sylvia to lay out the next step. And remember, since she will be doing the work, she needs to participate heavily in the design of this next step.”

Interim Checkpoints

Jeremy was standing when I got to the courtyard. “I think I got it figured out,” he said. “You were right. I can tell you exactly when that unfinished report will hit my desk. Next Tuesday, because it is due next Wednesday.”

“And so, sometime on Tuesday, your teammate will realize it won’t (can’t) be done, go ask your boss what he should do and your boss will say what?” I smiled.

“My boss will say, give it back to Jeremy and he will get it done.” Now, it was Jeremy’s turn to smile.

“Why are smiling? You were pretty upset last week when it happened to you.”

Jeremy cracked up. “I know. It’s weird. When you know it is going to happen, it’s funny, like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. You know the guy is going to smash into the wall and it’s funny.”

“So, what are you going to do differently, because next Tuesday, this will not be so funny?” I asked.

“Well, first I am going to set two follow-up meetings this week to make sure the project is kicked off and underway. Then next Monday, I will have a final follow-up meeting to get the last revision so I can review it on Tuesday. If we have a final touch-up, that will be okay. I guess it’s all in getting ahead of the curve.”

“You learned a valuable lesson about follow-up. It is the one place that most managers drop the ball and it is as simple as scheduling on your calendar.”

Predictability of Unfinished Work

Jeremy pulled me aside as I walked down the hall. “I have the same situation,” he said.

“What situation?” I asked.

“My boss hands all the stuff to me to make sure it gets done, but he never makes it clear that I have to delegate most of the work to other team members. Worse still, he doesn’t support me when I get push-back on some of the assignments. He lets these people off the hook as soon as there is a whimper. I was here until 10:00p last night working on a project that I assigned to Sylvia two weeks ago. I found it on the corner of my desk yesterday with a note.

I didn’t have time to get this done. It is due tomorrow. I talked to the boss and he said just give it back to you. He said you would take care of it.

“I am not the manager, but the boss expects me to make sure everything gets done.” Jeremy was clear eyed, but you could tell he felt pretty beat up.

“Sounds to me like the boss expects you to take care of it. Tell me, how do you like working until 10:00?”

“I don’t. I was so mad, I could have strangled Sylvia.” Jeremy fidgeted.

“So, what are you going to do differently next time?” I asked. “Because this will happen again unless you do something different.”

“What else could I do?” Jeremy sat straight in his chair. “I saw the package at 4:30 and there was five hours of work that had to get done. I had to stay.”

“That wasn’t the question. The question is how are you going to prevent that from happening next time?” Jeremy was stymied. “Let’s take a break,” I continued. “Get some fresh air. I will meet you out in the company courtyard in about ten minutes. I have to check on something. Then we can talk some more. Until then, here is a clue about where I want to focus. What day next week is the next unfinished report going to land on your desk?”

Do I Have the Authority?

“But, I am the manager, shouldn’t I have the authority to make some decisions around here?” Amber asked.

“Ah, yes. Authority,” I replied. “You must understand, however, that authority comes with accountability. Neither comes first. You cannot have the authority to make a decision without the accountability for the outcome of that decision. Conversely, you cannot be held to account for the outcome unless you have the authority to make the decision.”

“So, just exactly what decisions do I have the authority to make around here?” Amber pressed on.

“To know that, you have to examine your goals and objectives.” Amber had an unspoken question on her face. I continued, “Your goals and objectives, agreed upon by you and your manager, set the context for your accountability (output) and the authority you have to make decisions to reach those goals.

“In the beginning, that authority may be unclear. That is why you meet with your manager more frequently, to clarify the context, define the accountability and determine your authority. As time goes by, your confidence will increase and so will your understanding of the discretion you have to make appropriate decisions.

“The most important understanding, where you have authority to make decisions regarding the output of your team, you also have accountability for that outcome. Do not think you can have the authority without the accountability.”

How to Move a Team from BAMS to Work Mode

This is the last of a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series. The purpose is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have a question, what are the biggest challenges for companies starting self-organizing teams?

Response:
First, give any group of people a problem to solve and they will self-organize into a team to solve the problem. There will be discussion, disagreement, agreement and commitment. Some members of the team may fall out. A leader will emerge. Some would call this role a coach, others a manager.

You already have a self-organized team. The next step is to create an accountable team, where the team itself manages accountability. Some teams push accountability management to the leader (coach, manager) and given the opportunity, many leaders (coaches, managers) cannot resist. If the leader falls for (seduced by) it, the team easily succumbs into BAMS.

How does the leader/coach/manager resist the temptation? The most effective manager does not tell people what to do. The most effective manager asks the most effective questions.

Discontinuous Levels and Hierarchy

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work. Links to each post in this series, below.
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your post yesterday, you said that growth (of capability) is nested in discontinuous levels and that these discontinuous levels were readily observable. What did you mean by discontinuous?

Response:
An electric car has a continuous power-train and no gears. It goes from minimum to maximum in one continuous power curve. Humans are more like a multi-speed transmission, where each gear winds out to its maximum, shifting into the next gear.

Jean Piaget was the pioneer who observed distinct stages in childhood development.
Non-verbal sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), where objects that cannot be sensed (seen or heard) do not exist. I have five fingers on each hand, but hands behind my back means I have no fingers at all.
Pre-operatonal stage (2-7 years) where symbolic language emerges to indicate relationships, though relationships are ego-centric, the child is the center of its universe.
Concrete operational stage (7-11 years), where the understanding of tangible concrete elements are organized, and abstract, conceptual elements are barely understood. Attention span (timespan) at age 6 increases from fifteen minutes to one hour at age nine.
Formal operational stage (11-18 years), where cause and effect logic, abstract conceptual elements are recognized and assimilated.

Elliott Jaques continued these observations of discontinuous stages throughout adulthood (age 20 through age 70).

  • Symbolic Declarative (S-I) – Timespan – 1 day to 3 months
  • Symbolic Cumulative (S-II) – Timespan – 3 months to 1 year
  • Symbolic Serial (S-III) – Timespan – 1 year to 2 years
  • Symbolic Parallel (S-IV) – Timespan – 2 years to 5 years
  • Conceptual Declarative (S-V) – Timespan – 5 years to 10 years
  • Conceptual Cumulative (S-VI) – Timespan – 10 years to 20 years
  • Conceptual Serial (S-VII) – Timespan – 20 years to 50 years
  • Conceptual Parallel (S-VIII) – Timespan – 50 years to 100 years

Cognitive development is not simply how many problems are solved within a time-frame. All problems are not created equal. Some problems are more complex than others, and that complexity is discontinuous.

For example –

  • Problem solving at S-I – Trial and error.
  • Problem solving at S-II – Cumulative diagnostics, comparative.
  • Problem solving at S-III – Root cause analysis, cause and effect, single critical path.
  • Problem solving at S-IV – Multi-system analysis, capacity, dependency, contingency, velocity.

Each of these stages in problem solving requires capability at that level. Levels of capability are observable and distinct, become the basis to understand levels of work. Levels of work define the framework for organizational hierarchy.
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Here are all the links to this series on Teal and Levels of Work.
Teal and Levels of Work
Hierarchy is Just a Shape
All Problems Are Not Created Equal
The Question of Accountability
Teal and Theory of Constraints
Hidden Hierarchy in a Self-Managed Team
Accountability and Authority
Behaviorists Without Children
BAMS and Teal
Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason
Most Teams are Functional, Few Are Accountable
Manifest-Extant-Requisite
Stratified Levels of Self-Organization

Manifest-Extant-Requisite

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.
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Who is accountable and what is the role of a manager? Teal would say the team is accountable and there is no manager, the team is accountable for the output of the team.

Jaques would ask the question again, who is accountable and what is the role of the manager? Laloux acknowledges that, on the nursing teams at Buurtzorg, there are nurses that contribute more than others, and that, on request, a coach can be summoned. There is no visible role of a manager, but leadership is certainly visible.

Leadership may be designated (in the role of a manager) or it may naturally emerge in a hierarchy of “recognition, influence and skill.” Jaques clearly addresses this issue, exploring three states of organizational structure. Organizational structure (hierarchy) is the way we define the working relationships between people.

The Manifest Organization is the structure of the organization represented on the official organization chart, “at best, only a very rough approximation to what is actually going on, if you can even make sense of it.” Laloux might argue, this is the documentation of the “chain of command” and serves to illustrate the evil in hierarchy.

The Extant Organization is the system as it actually functions, for better or worse. Misguided notions of “command and control” drive dysfunctional working relationships, AND also allow for the emergence of natural working relationships described by Laloux as “recognition, influence and skill.” Jaques describes that the Extant Organization “requires you to dig in and find who is actually being held accountable for what and what authority they are, in fact, able to exercise in relation to whom and to what.”

The study of the Extant Organization begins the quest, gives you clues “by giving you a picture of how people intuitively judge the place, and how it can be made to work best, in spite of confusions and lack of clarity – for, by and large, we do try to get our work done as sensibly as the situation will allow.”

Because the role of manager is “invisible” does not mean a lack of leadership. Indulge me (and Elliott) to make this distinction. Where Laloux describes the team as accountable, Jaques would describe the team as “managing accountability.” Managing accountability is different than accountability for output.

A manager is that person accountable for the output of other people. The manager controls all the variables around the team, they provide the system, the training, the tools, the facility. The manager (coach) intervenes when the team struggles. See my post on BAMS and Teal. All of these descriptions are consistent with “managerial” practices at Burrtzorg. The nursing teams attend training, work inside a structured system to solve problems and make decisions, are provided the tools with which to work and are supported by coaches and facilitators trained to assist the team to manage its own accountability.

Jaques holds the manager accountable for the output of the team. AND, the most effective teams are those that manage their own accountability. These statements are not exclusive, they are simultaneous. Further, the most effective managers are those that support the team to manage their own accountability.

Those teams that fail to manage their own accountability suffer from fight-flight-freeze-appease or dependence (on the leader). In Jaques world, these descriptions are all consistent with a set of requisite managerial practices.

My sense is this. Teal is an intuitive response against a conceptual construct of power and control. It acknowledges hierarchy of recognition, influence and skill. Buurtzorg created an inventive structure to ensure the absence of power and control and stimulate the emergence of recognition, influence and skill. This is not a designated (Manifest) organization, but one from the study of the Extant Organization.

Teal may be an effort in the evolution from Manifest to Extant to Requisite.
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Accountability and Authority

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.
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My last post on Hidden Hierarchy, took a close look at Buurtzorg, where nurses in self-managed groups of 10-12 make decisions related to intake, scheduling, planning, holiday and vacation coverage. These are all decisions well within the timespan capability of each team. This slice of the organization has clear accountability for those issues and with that accountability must come the authority to make those decisions.

Laloux describes the authority exists because there is no managerial hierarchy with oversight that might question or reverse a decision made collectively by the team. Elliott Jaques, in the schema of levels of work would describe the authority as “timespan of discretion.” Each team has full discretion to make decisions and solve problems related to tasks identified at that level of work. The authority doesn’t exist in the absence of management, the authority is expressly assigned to the team.

With authority must come accountability. Laloux describes the nursing teams as accountable for their own output, without managerial oversight. This appears to work well, until it doesn’t.

When, it doesn’t, there are “coaches.”

Elliott would always be looking for “who is the manager?” He would not be looking for the mandated manager, but the observable manager. Who is bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of the team? At Buurtzorg, there are coaches who provide facilitation along defined problem solving models (I am reminded of Eli Goldratt’s Conflict Resolution Cloud).

It is incumbent on the coach to set context (in the form of questions), seek clarity in the issue or problem and bring the team to its own resolution. I think we just found the manager.

In short, the founder of Buurtzorg, Jos de Blok, found a way to grow the organization by driving decisions down to the appropriate level of work, organizing small teams to do that work. The design is perfectly scale-able to the current tune of approximately 10,000 nurses.

There is a hierarchy, not a hierarchy of power, but a hierarchy of accountability.

Hidden Hierarchy in a Self-Managed Team

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.
——
At Buurtzorg, nurses are grouped in teams of 10-12. Laloux describes, “They deal with all the usual management tasks that arise in every team context: they set direction and priorities, analyze problems, make plans, evaluate people’s performance and make the occasional tough decisions. Instead of placing these tasks on one single person -the boss- team members distribute these management tasks among themselves.”

The description is agreeable and I assume that Laloux is describing the phenomenon accurately. Each nursing team is dubbed self-organizing and self-managing, without hierarchy. In my post Teal and Theory of Constraints, “little surprise that a team of a dozen nurses could solve most problems and make most decisions related to intake, planning, scheduling and administration.” It is highly likely that in a pool of skilled nurses there would be a number of them with S-II capability (capable of effectively completing task assignments and projects 3-12 months in timespan). My suspicion is there is plenty of leadership talent in the team.

Laloux validates my suspicions. “the idea is not to make all nurses on a team equal. Whatever the topic, some nurses will naturally have a larger contribution to make or more say, based on their expertise, interest, or willingness to step in.” My suspicions say the difference can be measured in timespan and directly relates to capability.

Laloux continues, “In any field, some nurses will naturally have more to offer than others. Some nurses will build up reputations and influence even well beyond their team and are consulted by nurses from across the country on certain topics of expertise.”

My observation is that leadership is NOT a mandated phenomenon, but an observed phenomenon. Give any group of people a problem to solve and a leader will emerge, in Laloux’s words, “naturally.” I believe that natural emergence is consistent with capability measured in timespan. Leadership is an observed phenomenon.

I am reminded (thanks to Bruce Peters) that “the concept of Teal is not to be structure-less or for that matter leader-less.” My thoughts conclude there is plenty of leadership on display AND it is occurring in a natural hierarchy. Laloux would describe this as a hierarchy of “recognition, influence, and skill.” I would press and call this a hierarchy based on capability, and this capability drives both context setting and ultimately accountability. Elliott would describe it as an accountability hierarchy. Note that all of these descriptions of hierarchy are absent the word power.

I assume that in many cases power and hierarchy are named hand in hand. Laloux has gently teased them apart so that we can see the difference. But now we have to deal with another “A” word. With accountability goes authority. So how do we address an understanding of authority without the menacing connotation of power-mongering? I suppose that is next?
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Comments are welcome. If it is your first time posting here, your comment will go into a temporary queue. Once approved, future comments will post in real time. If you receive this blog by email, you will have to click through to the site to see posted comments.