Tag Archives: accountability

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.”

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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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

The Question of 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.
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The next elephant in the room is the issue of accountability. If the hierarchical schema in Levels of Work (Requisite Organization) replaces power with accountability, then where does accountability lie in the schema of Teal?

There is an adage, if everyone is accountable, then no one is accountable. Sociologists describe this effect as diffusion of responsibility. Alex Lickerman describes “diffusion of responsibility manifests itself as the decreased responsibility each member feels to contribute and work hard towards accomplishing the task or goal. The diffusion of responsibility is present in almost all groups, but to varying degrees, and can be mitigated by reducing group size, defining clear expectations and increasing accountability.”

In Elliott’s world (Requisite Organization) accountability is clearly assigned to the manager. A manager is defined as that person held accountable for the output of the team. Note this is not a definition of power, but a definition of accountability.

In Teal, accountability is distributed to the group and the role of manager does not exist. By accounts, this arrangement works well with results even-steven or better than a team with a managerial leader held accountable for the output of the team.

I have little direct contact with organizations who adopt this approach (Teal), so my anecdotal observation is this – Teal probably works just fine, until it doesn’t. And, when it doesn’t, what are the circumstances or conditions that cause the mis-step? What can be done to get the team back in productive work toward the defined goal?

These musings alone beg more questions. Who defined the goal in the first place? Who floated the project to the group in the beginning? How did the group adopt or accept the project? This is not the invisible hand of Adam Smith. Some person started the organization. Some person defined the mission and vision of the organization. Some person provided guidance (for better or worse). At some point, there was a decision by some(one) person to make a move, commit resources, spend energy. This set of questions points to context. Who creates the context in which the team works?

The self-directed work group appears on stage, but who owns the stage. Are there invisibles in the background pulling the curtain, playing the music, fading the lights, advancing the payroll. And, when those things do not happen, what becomes of the stage-players?

Who is accountable for the output of this context – some(one), every(one) or no (one)?

For now, I will leave these as unanswered questions, no hurry. I am more interested in clarity than answers.

Bottom Up or Top Down?

Yes.

There are a number of management moves (Agile being one) that demands bottom up orientation. I say yes. There are other management moves that that demand top down. Yes. How to reconcile the inevitable conflict?

The problem with those who would argue that top down is bad, they ignore the reason for higher levels of work and misconstrue the reason that management exists in the first place. Those who would argue against top down believe it is for control. It’s not.

The reason for top down, is context, not control.

It’s not about reporting. The fact is, we report to lots of people in the organization. I always ask, who has direct reports? All managers raise their hands. I have to deliver the bad news – you are not a manager so people can report to you.

It’s not about control, it’s about context.

Managerial roles exist to create context. That context is based on timespan. It is the role of the supervisor to think beyond what has to be done today, this week, this month. What is today’s work in the context of this week, this month?

It is the role of the manager to think beyond what has to be done this quarter, this year. What is today’s work in the context of this quarter, this year?

It’s not about control, it’s about context.

Managerial Attention

“Positive reinforcement isn’t money. Don’t think the only element you have as a manager is to give someone a bonus, or a spiff, or a raise. Don’t get me wrong, money is important, but it is not the only touch you have, nor is it the most powerful.

“See that production line over there,” I asked, pointing toward three lone workers alongside a bank of automated machine presses. Travis looked. He was familiar with that work area.

“Did you ever wonder why those three workstations still exist?” Travis knew that seven other stations in the line had been replaced with automated presses.

“Yeah, sometimes, it’s like why do we still have people doing that?”

“Initially, that’s what we thought, but when we benchmarked the automated production with the manual production, we found one worker not only kept up, but exceeded the output of the automated machine. We started asking questions. How could this be?

“Turns out the workstation on the end, Rochelle’s station, is right by her supervisor’s office. Every time the supervisor comes out, he stops, looks at Rochelle’s production and smiles at her. It’s the only station he stops at. He never says a word to Rochelle, yet she has the highest production rate.

“Do you think she has the highest production rate because she thinks she is going to get a bonus? Or because she might be replaced with a robot. I don’t think so.”