Consulting · Reflection

They need to fix accountability

My favourite comment for the week was me and a friend talking about a project we were consulting on. We agreed that “they need to fix their accountability”.

While we might be right, we realised that it is a bit wimpy to suggest that someone else has to fix accountability for a project you are on.

So we had a long discussion about what we could do on the project and we concluded we just needed to make sure we were clear on
– what we delegate (including escalate or ask for);
– when we are ambiguous about our own accountability for something and our own authority for getting things done
– when we were assuming someone else was “handling something” and when we thought we were.
– Next project we will go back to basics and insist on a session where we sit down and explain our roles and responsibilities to each other and then debate them.

We have already had improvements in less that a week. It was so simple that I am wondering if it is worth creating a one day course that covers nothing more than delegation, follow up and expectation setting. Would you come to a course like that or is it something you already know and do?


One thought on “They need to fix accountability

  1. I have been in similar situations a number of times as well. For example, once I kept butting heads with a key stakeholder until I realised that she thought she was responsible for delivering the program (my job). Once I clarified our respective accountabilities, conflicts dissolved. I was amazed at how much and how quickly things changed between us! My favourite tool for this is the RACI matrix (eg, see Wikipedia Once this first step has been undertaken, though, the hardest thing is to actually hold people accountable. I’ve found the techniques suggested in the book “Crucial Confrontations” quite useful in this regard (see book in Amazon

    As for running one-day courses, I think the challenge is getting people to realise that they need it in the first place. To me the crux of the problem is usually the actual realisation that the way out of a particular issue is the need to define and enforce accountabilities. This seems to have been your experience above, and that’s how it was for me too. When you have a responsibility matrix documented in, say, a project management plan or project charter, people skim over it cursorily. Everyone assumes that everyone else has agreed to the responsibility matrix until something goes wrong – even if the matrix has been discussed in a workshop situation – because it all seems too theoretical until a problem arises. That’s not unlike how most people read legal contracts, I suppose! And the responsibility matrix is a kind of contract.

    I think having this as a topic in a broader course would work quite well, though.

    Good on you for bringing this up.


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