Challenges for Shared Accountability

Accountability is typically associated with a single person.

Last Sunday, I was talking to an Agile Coach. Naturally, we started conversing around “Accountability”. We exchanged some excellent thoughts and moved on to discuss the challenges for Accountability. In this blog, I will share my thoughts on Accountability.

In the recent 2020 Scrum Guide, Accountabilities has been emphasised and reworded for Roles. Even though there is no harm in calling roles, but the importance of mentioning them as Accountabilities holds the key as now it stresses the importance of owning the work and learning from it.

Accountability is typically associated with a single person so that the person owns up to work done. On not being able to achieve the desired outcome, the person owns it to learn from it.

Interestingly in Scrum, we have individual accountabilities — Scrum Master & Product Owner and Shared accountabilities — Developers.

Scrum Master— Accountable for proper implementation of Scrum

Product Owner— Accountable for Why & What — Value of the Product

Developers — Accountable for How — Instilling Quality in the Product

Now, what is shared Accountability?

  • Each individual is accountable for what they all do.
  • Each individual is accountable for the group’s actions.
  • It doesn’t matter how much an individual contributes, but each individual is accountable for the outcomes they deliver as a team.
Shared Accountability
Image Credit: Unsplash | Andrey Metelev

Is it simple? Let’s look at it.

For the shared Accountability to thrive, it needs an appropriate environment for teams to have

  • Common Purpose
  • Open Communication within and outside
  • Collaboration
  • Continuous Improvement or Learning

Challenges in achieving Shared Accountabilities

Typically, Organisations today are operating in the Hybrid world that creates particular baggage in the below areas preventing them from achieving shared Accountability.

  • Organisation Structure
  • Organisation Culture
  • Leadership

Organisation Structure:

As the organisations grow, the industry trend to manage it by splitting into different parts. And the easiest way they organise is based on Specialisations, causing departments that hold the power of decision within their boundaries. Now when there is a need to take a collective decision for an organisation to deliver value, the decision making becomes ambiguous as it lies in different departments. Co-ordinating the decision making becomes an overhead and, at times, lead to power conflicts which is a significant constraint for the teams doing the actual work to deliver value.

Organisation Culture:

Schneider’s Model of Culture says, “Culture is how organisations do things to succeed”. Typically, most organisations believe that they succeed by getting and keeping control, like relying on hierarchies for stability and maintaining standards & procedures for every aspect. When encountered a problem that affects the entire organisation, the blame and finger-pointing emerge rather than finding a solution consensus. Then at the team level, thrusting them comply and follow directions.


Typically, the leaders of bureaucratic and controlling organisations exhibit reactive leadership, like being risk-averse and cautious over their actions, not challenging the status quo, complying with the operating procedures, and exercising control over collaboration.

If you noticed a pattern, all three challenges are interrelated.

Recommended Antidotes

To achieve shared Accountability, the organisation’s shared purpose alone wouldn’t be sufficient. It needs to unleash the power and humanising nature of the teams, understanding the shared sense of individuals.

This needs an organisation to organise around customers, which in turn helps teams manage themselves around value. On top of it, autonomy in decision making within boundaries hold the key. Or need to find ways to collaborate across specialisation driven departments and minimise decision making overheads.

Additionally, the organisation’s cultural beliefs should be supporting the purpose of individuals — Succeeding by cultivating people who fulfil the organisation’s vision in which the leaders serve as gardeners nurturing the individuals. Product Owner

Note: You shall explore, the tryScrum’s Agile programs to learn more about Organisation Structure, Culture & Leadership.

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