If You Want Accountability, Get Rid of Managerial Hierarchy

“One of our core values is accountability.”

“You are accountable for these results or this project.”

Chances are, you’ve heard these phrases before. One of the most popular buzzwords across organizations regardless of domain, size or geography is “accountability.”


Human Resources


What Is Accountability?

Given the frequent use of the word and the level of organizational focus on it, it’s important to define it. According to Merriam-Webster, accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” To be accountable is to take responsibility for any action, positive or negative.

How Do You Increase Accountability at all Levels of an Organization?

The majority of leaders believe that the most effective way to increase accountability is to identify an individual at each level that can explain the results (or lack thereof) to a team or group. This method makes sense intuitively and it’s familiar. In fact, it was the model used to build most companies during the industrial revolution and how most of us were raised.

Yet, many organizations must respond to a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world. Defining multiple layers of people accountable for their area of the process or product decreases accountability and slows decision-making.

The Solution: Remove the Hierarchy

Organizations attempting to respond to VUCA often pursue methods like Scrum, a team-based framework. The team is responsible for what it does or doesn’t produce. If you add a layer of management to the team such as a “technical manager” or “senior developer,” this model breaks down.

If a hierarchy exists within the team, those individuals “underneath” have an immediate “out” if something goes wrong. For example, if the development team fails to achieve a releasable product increment during a Sprint, they can quickly point to the person above them in the hierarchy.

“Blame them, not me.”

Having a person who’s accountable for the team’s performance allows the individual members to distance themselves from their role in a failed Sprint. If you want to increase accountability within a team, make the entire team accountable.

Scrum: Win as a Team, Lose as a Team

Instill the mentality of “we win as a team, we lose as a team” within your organization. This will encourage each member to quickly realize that their individual responsibility matters to their teammates and directly impacts the success of Scrum.

For help with ridding your organization of hierarchy, send us a message