Monday, December 15, 2008


I've been in a number of discussions lately where everyone has cried out for greater accountability. The pleas for accountability are always directed away, at other groups, either on the same rung, or most often up the hierarchy.

In my soccer team coaching, I have always emphasized mutual accountability. A soccer field is too big, and the power of any one individual--no matter how skillful--is too small to carry the day in a match. So, a back line defense must be accountable to each other, in deciding how to patrol the defensive areas, how to shield the goalkeeper and how to supply the midfield. A goalkeeper is accountable to everybody, but especially to his back line in helping them manage their assets. The midfield is accountable to both the back line and to the attackers. Without being able to supply the attackers, the team can't score; without shielding the back line, the defense will eventually be pierced by a well-organized team moving the ball. The attackers are the ones with artistic license, but they too have to take their chances when they come and finish them. If the team is under pressure, attackers are accountable to defend.

Within each unit, the members are accountable to each other, so that if ball possession is lost it has be be recovered, as soon as possible, and it doesn't matter how. This means that there is constant communication within and across groups. By contrast,communication in corporate groups is episodic--daily or weekly meetings--and stylized. There's no time for that on a field. It's live, it's constant and it relates to an immediate problem.

High level executives love golf, the most solitary of games. This seems ironic to me, especially since team work is one of the most overused corporate cliches. A report about the former CEO of Merrill Lynch noted that he preferred to play golf alone. After the demise of the firm, a consultant to the board of directors noted that this might have been a red flag!

Accountability is really for everybody, and it should not solely be regarded as being directed upward, as it is in most organizations. Every working group or project team can employ the idea of mutual accountability to great benefit.

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