⚖️ Structuring for evenly distributed accountability

Drama involving dependencies is a symptom of uneven accountability: one group feels the full heat of accountability for an outcome but is forced to rely on/wait for another group that doesn't feel the heat. This practical guide will help you structure for more even accountability.


If you are involved in projects that matter, you and your team probably spend a lot of time worrying about and dealing with dependencies. Simply put, a dependency is when one group needs something from another group.

How do we handle dependencies? Someone makes a spreadsheet or adds fields in a Jira board (or something like it) and we start tracking the dependencies and reading through them in status meetings.

I think we'd agree, this approach is better than nothing but it's little more than a Band-Aid. Writing dependencies down doesn't solve them. We can report on them in weekly status meetings all we want, but won't get resolved until we understand and deal with the root cause. We need to learn how to detect and disable accountability shields in our organizations.

What makes dependencies so challenging and disruptive is not that we didn’t write the dependencies down.

What makes dependencies disruptive is that we have uneven accountability: one group is exposed to the consequences of failure and the other is not. The other group is shielded from accountability.

One party is fully exposed to the consequences of failure and the other is not. AND the party that is accountable is forced to rely on the party that is shielded from accountability. That's your root cause.

If you review all the cases in your work where you have the worst most hard-to-manage dependencies, you'll see this pattern: uneven accountability. One Team is able to take advantage of accountability shields.

☂️ Accountability shields degrade performance

The crux of the issue lies in the disparate exposure to the consequences of failure. When one team faces the full brunt of accountability, while another remains insulated, the organization is plagued with a fundamental imbalance. This disparity not only undermines performance but also fosters a culture where accountability is avoided rather than embraced. Everyone starts seeking and setting up accountability shields.

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