Tag Archives: accountability

Simple, Subtle, Effective

Rebecca did a very smart thing. During the delegation meeting with Todd, she asked him to take the notes. As Rebecca described various elements of the delegation, Todd wrote things down. Before the meeting was over, she had Todd read back the notes.

It is simple, subtle and very effective. I meet many managers who are stressed beyond belief, thinking they have to do all the “work” in their meetings.

What dynamic changes when this responsibility is shifted to the team member? What can the manager now focus on?

It all started with Rebecca’s request, “Todd, I need to see you in fifteen minutes to go over the progress on the ABC project, and please bring a notepad. I want you to take some notes to document our meeting.”

It’s Not Communication

“I don’t think you have a communication problem,” I said.

Sarah was quiet.  “But, it looks like a communication problem.  The sales manager is having trouble communicating with the operations manager.”

“I don’t think you have a communication problem,” I repeated.  “I think you have an accountability and authority problem.”

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Is the sales manager the manager of the operations manager?”

“No,” Sarah replied.

“Is the operations manager the manager of the sales manager?”

“No,” she repeated.

“So, when they are required to coordinate together, who is accountable for what, and who has the authority to make what decisions?”

“What do you mean?” Sarah, always with the same question.

“If the operations manager has a backlog of eighteen weeks, does he have the authority to tell sales to stop selling?”

“Of course not,” Sarah looked a bit shocked.  “That decision is the sales manager’s decision.”

“So, if the output of sales outstrips the output capacity of operations, who decides to stop?” I asked, politely. 

“What do you mean?”  Sarah asked, once again.

“You see, I don’t think you have a communication issue.  I think you have an accountability and authority issue.”


“Here’s the list,” Dalton announced. “We met last Friday, and here is the list. Some good ideas, some stupid ideas, some smart-ass ideas, we wrote them all down. Including this one idea that everyone thought was the best idea.”

“Problem solved?” I asked.

“You would think so,” Dalton replied. “We started with three problems that caused us to get behind schedule. Our materials were late, a machine broke down and Fred called in sick without actually calling in. We started work on the first problem, that our materials were late.”

“And, now, you have an idea how to resolve your materials problem?” I wanted to know.

“Yes, but,” Dalton started. “You see the original batch of materials arrived on time, but the whole batch turned out to be defective. We didn’t notice until we started the production run. Our first-part inspection failed, so we stopped the run. We found the defective material, checked the batch, all were defective. It was an easy fix for our supplier, but it took two days to get a replacement batch.”

“So, what was your team’s idea to fix?” I asked.

“That’s the problem. The team suggested a receiving inspection. You see, the defective batch was sitting in-house for two weeks before the production run. If we had checked the batch when we got it, we would have known about the problem with plenty of time to fix.”

“And, so?”

“But we don’t do receiving inspections. We don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the visibility on the schedule. Someone from purchasing just checks that we received the box, matches the packing slip, and that’s it. Even if they opened the box, they wouldn’t know what to check anyway.”

“Sounds like your inner critic is whispering in your ear again. And, if you listen to the whisper, that critic voice will get louder.”

Colors of Thinking

“Generating alternatives? Green light thinking?” Dalton asked.

“Yes, the traffic light analogy. Green light thinking. How many alternatives do you want to generate?” I asked.

“As many as possible,” Dalton replied.

“Even if the alternative is silly, not feasible?”

Dalton nodded, “Yes, even if it’s a stupid idea.”

“In solving your team’s productivity problem, why would you entertain a stupid idea?” I pressed.

“You don’t know my team,” Dalton observed. “If my team comes up with an idea and I say it’s stupid, that will be the last idea they contribute. Not very productive if I want as many ideas as possible.”

“And, even a stupid idea may contain the spark that generates the idea that saves the day.”

My Way Highway

“So, the solution to the productivity problem with my team requires curiosity?” Dalton wanted to confirm.

“Yes, become a curious child,” I nodded. “You see, you have grown up to an adult and your inner critic has become very sophisticated. Your judge has no empathy for you, your judge only wants resolution, even if your resolution doesn’t work. To reach a real resolution, you have to become a curious child.”

“You don’t mean childish?” Dalton wanted to know.

“No, I want you to see yourself as a child, have empathy for that child. Give yourself permission, yes, even permission to fail. With that, you open the doors to discovery. You have a very real problem with your team’s productivity. There are many alternatives between my way or the highway.

The Force

“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “How did you get that from Star Wars?”

Dalton shifted in his chair. “Look, it all started with a calamity on the shop floor. Materials were late, a machine broke down and Fred didn’t show up for work. My manager was miffed because I missed our production target. I am not saying that my manager is Darth Vader, but that is the way I felt. Dark side stuff. Some of that dark side lives inside and I listen to it. My guess, we all listen to it. That is the source of my inner critic, my judge. I’ve lived with my judge all my life, so he is a familiar character. My judge knows me and is very persuasive, always providing a way out, projecting blame on everything around me, so that, should I fail, it is not my fault.”

“And, if that is what you believe, what does that do for your team’s problem?” I asked.

“It certainly doesn’t help me look at alternative solutions. In fact, looking for blame keeps me in the past where there is certain to be a scapegoat.”

“What changed?”

Dalton’s spirit was up. “May the force be with you. You said I had to give myself permission, even permission to fail. The force won’t help you unless you trust the force. I had to slow down, relax. Thank my inner critic for sharing the tightness in my chest. Armoring up to protect myself may provide defense, but it cuts off the creativity I need to solve the problem.”

“Young Jedi,” I pronounced. “You are ready for the next step. Discovery, exploration, creating alternatives that might solve your team’s problem.”

The Dark Side

“Do you think that a change in your thinking can change the outcome of the circumstances with your team? Do you believe that a thought has the power to do that?” I asked.

Dalton was slow to reply. “My brain tells me that is so, but this tightness in my chest has me off-balance. My head says yes, my body says no.”

“So, who is in charge?” I tilted my face. “You know the body is just a connected series of neurons charged up with hormones and other chemical cocktails it produces. If your body could talk, what would that tightness in your chest be telling your brain?”

Dalton started to laugh, proving, in spite of the circumstance, that he had a sense of humor. “My body would be saying – Brain, you are up against a really difficult problem. As your body, we know there is a possibility of failure, so we have served up some chemicals to prepare you for defeat. Brain, we know that you have aspirations to solve your problems, but the body knows better. Do you feel that tightness in your chest? That tightness is just our resistance to your aspirations. We have been driving that resistance all of your life, and that is why it feels so familiar. We know you have aspirations right now, but if you would just put those off until tomorrow, or even next week, we will release the tightness in your chest. In fact, if you could find a smaller aspiration, a smaller problem, we wouldn’t put up such a fuss.”

I nodded my own chuckle. “Where did you get that?”

Dalton nodded. “Star Wars.”

Inside Critic

“There is a next step?” Dalton repeated.

“Yes,” I replied. “Did you think that just having confidence was going to solve the problems your team is trying to work through? Positive thinking will only get you so far. We have to do a little reality checking. But, you can’t move to the next step until you cut yourself some slack. I know a physician in Kansas City who has a sign up in his office. WELCOME to my practice. Please understand that I don’t carry malpractice insurance, and I make mistakes all the time.”

Dalton erupted a light chuckle, but he saw the irony.

“If he is your doctor,” I continued, “and you are looking to lay blame for your illness, you’ve got the wrong doctor. But, if you are looking for someone to help you discover the best path to take, you may be in the right place.”

“So, what is the next step?” Dalton asked.

“I just told you. Discover the best path. But, you can’t go there until you give yourself permission to fail. You will not be able to clearly see possible alternatives. The judge inside you will cloud your thinking, create anxiety and generally stir up resistance to resolving your team’s underperformance. Your inside critic wants you to feel defeated before you even start.”

The Best of Intentions

“But everyone understood that we had to land the project for the team to get their bonus,” Lindsey protested.

“No, you understood that. The team understood something different. If they gave it their best and worked really hard, the team would get the bonus. So, they worked really hard and gave it their best. The only person who was in position to make decisions was the manager. The team didn’t get their bonus because of their manager.”

Lindsey was quiet. “So, we set up a system that, in the end, created a divide between the manager and the team.”

But, the Team Missed the Deadline

Lindsey had a puzzled look on her face. “I don’t understand. The team missed the deadline. We lost the project. If not the team, who do we hold accountable for the result? And believe me, this was a big deal. There was a big team bonus riding on this project.”

I started, slowly. “Who knew about the project first? Who had knowledge about the context of the project among all the other projects in the company? Who had the ability to allocate additional personnel to the project team to meet the deadline? Who had the authority to bump other project schedules to meet this deadline? Who was in a position to authorize overtime for this project?”

“Well, the Memphis team Manager,” she replied.