Agile Tips: Create Accountability and Self Organization

three men sitting on chair beside tables
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

One of the ideals in an Agile organization is self-organization. We want to empower people to make their own decisions. We expect people to set their own priorities, get them done and keep us updated. In short: as leaders, we want our teams to keep us ‘comfortable’. 

Accountability ‘versus’ responsibility.

To me, accountability means seeing an objective through to completion. 

Responsibility means completing parts of the work (a key result) needed to complete the objective. 

The big challenge in an Agile organisation: enabling accountability down to the teams. Leaders always scan around to see whether stuff is ‘done’, searching for things that were missed out. They look around for ‘things’ that might add value, for new ideas. When we take away that leader, the team members need to do the ‘scanning’. 

Executors see their job as getting stuff done. Once it’s clear what needs doing, they do it. They tick the box ‘done’. And then they set out to get the next thing done. When that next thing isn’t defined, they’ll wait or shift focus. 

The core behaviours we need here is ‘proactivity’ & ‘keep the ball rolling’. We need team members to scan, to think, to see what else needs to be done in order to reach an objective. We want them to come up with their own action plan, well prioritized. On top of that, we want them to think about better ways of doing things; how can we reach our objectives faster or with bigger impact. 

As a team member, we want the leader to empower us. We don’t want them to check what we’re doing continuously. We also don’t mind not spending 5 hours making a powerpoint just to update our boss (time we could have better spent ‘getting things done’). Trust is the key behaviour we expect from our leaders. 

As leaders, we want to have all stars. People who show leadership, accountability and never stop before they create the outcomes we agreed on. To get there, it’s important to stop doing the things your people can do. And when gaps occur, coach them. Teach them what it means to become leaders. Coach them on decision making. Help them define clear outcomes, split into goals, objectives or key results. Establish a meeting cadence for them to keep you updated, so you can coach them when the ball stops rolling. 

Creating self-organization requires an open relationship between leaders and team members. We create clear expectations together and continuously align with them. When things derail, we give honest feedback no matter the role. We help each other grow through respectful collaboration. 

12 Responses

  1. This is a super useful blog – helping define the difference between Accountability, Responsibility and Self Managing. One of the things I think that many managers struggle with is trusting and enabling “The Accountability”… to the team. By giving up / sharing the accountability they may no longer be seen as being critical to the team. This is the beginning of We vs an I culture. In the manager enabling the team to have accountability they also need to feel safe to share this but still have a valuable purpose in the organisation too.

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