Tag Archives: accountability

Third Leg on the Stool

“More?” Phillip asked.

“Phillip, one of the biggest mistakes a company makes when it hires people, is underestimating what is required for the person to be effective in the position. The role of a Project Manager requires a new skill set, a skill set that most companies never train.”

“We talked about schedules and checklists, but you said there was another tool, a third leg.”

I nodded. “Perhaps the most important tool. Meetings. Most PMs know they need to have meetings, but they just gut their way through. Nobody likes their meetings. The team would skip them if they could. Participation by team members hardly exists.

“Think what a meeting could be. It makes communication consistent because everyone hears the same thing. It provides the opportunity for interactive participation and questions. It encourages participation and promotes buy-in. It can be used as an accountability tool.

“But effective meetings rarely happen, because most managers don’t know how.” Phillip’s turn to nod. It began to sink in. Running the job is completely different than doing the job.

S-II Power Tool

Phillip was all ears. He slowly understood that the role of the supervisor was different. While the role of the crew member was to do the work, the role of the supervisor was to make sure the work got done. It required a completely different set of skills. It had nothing to do with hammers, saws or heavy equipment. It had to do with scheduling people and materials. It had to do with making sure the work was complete and finished on time.

“You said we need to teach our PMs how to put a schedule together?” Phillip asked.

“Yes, and a schedule is only one of the tools of the supervisor. Another is a checklist.”

“You mean, like the punch list we use at the end of the job to wrap up unfinished details?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “Why use a checklist only at the end of the job. Checklists can be useful through the entire project. There are a hundred things that need follow-up and no one can keep all that in their head. In fact, after a few jobs, a master checklist can be created for different parts of the project, like a template that can be used over and over.”

“And we should teach this to our supervisors?” Phillip was slowly getting on board.

“Yep. I know it comes second nature to you, but not to your junior Project Managers.” I stopped. Phillip had enough for today. “Tomorrow, I will come by and we can pick up the next Project Management tool.”

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.”

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.”


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.
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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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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Back to Hierarchy, For a Reason

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.
If the purpose of hierarchy is not a power-grab, then why does hierarchy naturally exist as organizations form?

I recently ran into this issue in an organization with nine levels of managers. Without a guidepost to levels of work, people got promoted by reason of longevity, title instead of pay-raise, geography, too many people under a current manager, favoritism, nepotism. Totally out of control. The solution to organizational complexity was to add more people, more titles, more layers.

When hierarchy is grounded in levels of work (not power and not in nonsense), those layers naturally appear in the context of problem solving and decision making. AND, when we can see the distinction in the level of problem solving and the level of decision making, who-becomes-whose-manager is now a matter of organization sustenance.

We have explored the structure at Buurtzorg over the past couple of weeks. As an example of Teal, captured in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, the who-becomes-whose-manager is left to circumstance, not clearly defined and when it happens, designed to be temporary.

In Requisite Organization, based Elliott Jaques‘ levels of work, the who-becomes-whose-manager is based on accountability. Indeed, Elliott describes Requisite Organization as a Managerial Accountability Hierarchy, “a system of roles in which an individual in a higher role (manager) is held accountable of the outputs of persons in immediately lower roles (team members) and can be called ‘to account’ for their actions.”

Elliott would describe the accountability for each manager, to bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the team. This is not a suggestion, this is a mandate, an accountability. Managers are required to bring value to the work of the team. This is not a power structure, but a value-stream.

I was reminded that Teal is not structure-less. While the nursing teams are well described by Laloux, the rest of the structure is not, so let me make some guesses.
S-II – nursing teams, accountable to deliver direct nursing services. (Longest goals and objectives 3-12 months.)
S-III – regional coaches and institutional facilitators, accountable to ensure nursing teams are working effectively in that delivery. (See prior post on Teal and Theory of Constraints. Longest goals and objectives 12-24 months.)
S-IV – integration executives accountable to ensure the output of nursing services works within the medical community and government ordinances for financial accommodation and payment. (Longest goals and objectives 2-5 years.)
S-V – would be Jos De Blok, the founder of Buurtzorg, accountable for enterprise design and value in the marketplace. (Longest goals and objectives 5-10 years.)

Each level of work is defined by context in its decision making and problem solving. When this hierarchy occurs (naturally), it creates organizational sustenance, intentionally, with purpose.
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BAMS and Teal

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.
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 “to account” for performance.

When things go well, things go well. When things go adequately, no one rocks the boat. But, when things don’t go well, the mettle of a team is tested. And, Buurtzorg expects the team to handle its own issues, without the oversight of a “visible” manager.

So, what is going on here? Let me introduce you to Wilfred Bion. Bion was a psychiatrist, working for the British Army during World War II. His mandate was to take shell-shocked soldiers (current day PTSD) and return them to the battlefield to re-engage in combat. His background and academic training were suited to the task, but Bion had a problem. There were too many soldiers in this condition, the numbers overwhelmed the hospital resources.

Bion made a decision. There were too many PTSD soldiers to deal with 1-1, so he invented something called group therapy. He did not invent group therapy because he thought it a good idea. He invented it, because he had no other choice.

Working with soldiers in groups, with the purpose of returning them to battle, Bion observed the way the group worked, their interactions, dependencies and behavior to face the issues that landed them in the psych ward in the first place. Bion noticed two distinct behavior patterns, when the group appeared to be in “work” mode and when the group avoided work, or appeared to be in “non-work” mode. The distinctions were quite clear –

Work Mode – Non-work Mode
Rational – Irrational
Scientific – Un-scientific
Cooperative – Collusive
Controlled – Uncontrolled
Conscious – Unconscious

Groups moved from one state to the other state at will. Bion described this state as the group’s Basic Assumption Mental State or BAMS. Groups would move from Work to BAMS and back again. The movement from Work to BAMS occurred easily (unconscious), but the move from BAMS to work required very specific conscious behavior.

Working at the hospital, Bion attended meetings with other staff physicians, nurses and administrative personnel. The purpose of the meetings was to work together to solve problems and make decisions. Bion thought it peculiar that the hospital doctors and nurses displayed the same group behavior as the patients.

As part of military rigor, Bion was also required to attend meetings with upper echelons of military rank, to discuss strategies of war and resources of personnel, those going into battle, those recovering to return to battle. In those meetings, Bion was awestruck to discover the same behavior in military ranks, as the behavior in hospital personnel, mirrored in the patients. If it weren’t for the uniforms, you could not tell the difference between the generals, the doctors and the patients.

These behaviors would be readily observable in the (S-II) manager-less nurse teams at Buurtzorg. Take this tough problem – a team member, who after many opportunities (chances) is simply not a fit for the team. The most important cultural issue for every team is “who gets to be a member of our team?” This is the classic (though contrived) premise of the tv series Survivor. Faced with this decision, the team will either go into work or non-work (BAMS). Remembering that BAMS is an unconscious process, most teams automatically go there, observable in Fight-Flight-Freeze-Appease. They fight about it, blame each other (and the computer system). They flee, avoid, talk about the problem only in private (gossip at the water cooler). They freeze, make no moves at all (which ratchets up the tension). They appease, make excuses and generally cover-up.

The major BAMS move however is toward dependence. Dependence occurs when the tension in the group becomes so uncomfortable that the group deposits the discomfort on a designated leader. This dependence begins a subtle seduction on the leader of the team. At Buurtzorg, without a designated manager, this may be a moving target, but a leader will emerge. Or the team will self-select a leader. This is a slippery slope as an archetypal response in the dependence cycle. BAMS is collusive and most managers, given the opportunity (for new-found power) afforded by the group, can hardly resist.

Unfortunately, BAMS (non-work) never solves the problem, and neither will this dependent relationship. The ONLY solution is when the leader (manager, coach) puts the issue quite squarely back on the team, in the midst of discomfort. Without a doubt, when the leader-manager-coach puts the issue back on the table, the team will panic.

“The reason for this meeting today is to discuss Fred’s underperformance in relationship to the performance standards set by the team. The decision we make today is whether Fred continues as a member of the team or if Fred’s membership on the team should be terminated.”

The leader’s role is very simple – outlast the panic. Any issue that affects the team, the effectiveness of the team, must be dealt with by the team. Staying in “work” mode can only happen as a conscious decision to do so. That is the role of the leader. This has little to do with power, more to do with “work.”

At Buurtzorg, teams that recognize they are in BAMS can reach out for a coach. The structure at Buurtzorg defines this relationship with strict parameters to prevent group dependence. Laloux describes, “If teams get stuck, they can ask for external facilitation at any time, either from a regional coach or from the pool of facilitators of the institute.” Again, I think we found the manager.

In Requisite Organization, Elliott Jaques would describe this identical scenario, AND have a designated role of MANAGER. The manager would be in touch with the team sufficiently to recognize the team going into BAMS, to put real issues squarely on the table for the team to grapple with. High performing teams are those that are comfortable with discomfort and run toward (not away from) tough problems. The function of the manager is to keep the team in “work” mode.

It might be construed that Teal and Requisite Organization are identical, except for their terminology. I think not. The distinction is stark, has to do with hierarchy, which should be worthy of discussion in my next post.

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.
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.