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  • Writer's pictureEdgehill Consulting Group

The Accountability Virus: Is a lack of clear accountability plaguing your organization?

In my career, the lack of accountability has plagued organization as leaders have failed to address the following:

· Who owns it?

· Who needs to weigh in?

· Who can override decisions you have made up until now?

· Who just needs to be informed? Who needs to be consulted?

· How do you deal with those people that feel like they need to know everything?

· What degrees of freedom do you have to make decisions? Do you even know?

· And, so on and so on!

The following article builds on the simple project-based framework of RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) to try expand your thinking on how to vaccinate your organization against the Accountability Virus”.

What is RACI?

A RACI is a simple framework using the concepts of responsible, accountable, consulted and informed. It was initially designed to assign roles and responsibilities for each task, milestone or decision on a project. By clearly mapping out the roles (i.e. who) involved in each project task and at which level, you can eliminate confusion and clearly answer the age-old question, “Who is doing what?”. RACI can be equally as valuable when used to help leaders manage roles and responsibilities on a team or on a job or engagement. In my experience, confusion around roles and responsibilities is usually at the core of the dysfunction with teams. In other words, it causes a lot of human suffering at work! And, at Edgehill, our goal is to end human suffering at work!

In the extremes, the virus takes a couple of forms:

A – Accountable:

As the accountable party, you are on the line for delivering the final product. The buck stops with you! You can delegate the work, but ultimately you are accountable. Now that being said, you can’t do all the work yourself. You will undoubtedly need to delegate parts or even much of the work to others that may have more expertise than you. Now, this is usually where the trouble begins. Your delegation of responsibility needs to be clear, crystal clear! You need to create guardrails so that the team knows their boundaries and has enough “degrees of freedom” they to make decisions. In other words…

· What is the budget? · What are the expectations of customer experience? · Are there particular requirements that you have (i.e. your non-negotiables)? · How many people can they hire to help (internal or consultants)? · How often should they give you updates? · Are there particular triggers you have as the accountable party? Clarifying even a few of these questions as to when the person doing the work (the responsible one) can make decisions will be game-changing. For smaller efforts, the responsible party may also serve as the accountable party. Just ensure you only have one accountable person assigned to each effort. Now practically speaking, it is futile to map out the RACI for every effort. However, I beg of you to start this mapping with a few key priorities as it will build a common language within your team. If you do this, you will create a vaccination against the accountability virus!

For years, I worked at an amazing company that is known for collaboration across teams. While I would not trade this trait for the world, a culture that is overly collaborative can lead to the “everyone and no one” syndrome, as described above. Everyone feels they need to weigh in on the project and, as the responsible party or the product or project manager, you feel the need to get their opinions on almost everything. This gets confusing and elongates time lines. After several years of struggling with how to have both collaboration and crisp decision-making, I used RACI to thread the needle. When taking on an effort as the accountable party, I learned to do the following:

1. Agree: Agree on who is the accountable party. You might think you know but is important to confirm. Get it out in the open early. 2. Discuss: Discuss the RACI framework, so that others can see where they fit in. 3. Establish team spirit/vision: As the accountable party, you need to convey your vision for the effort. What is the aspiration? How will it change the game? What is the vision? 4. Get commitment: Once the roles and responsibilities are clear, it is important to get commitment and establish communication norms. For most efforts, I minimize one-off, point to point meetings in favor of short, frequent, joint meetings as this allows us to hear all perspectives and move forward quickly. We can air our concerns and move forward fast.

Spending more time setting up a team that is rowing in the same direction using some of these planning techniques will deliver multitudes of benefits down the line!

R – Responsible: This is the team member that does the work. Every initiative, engagement or job needs at least one responsible party, but it is OK to assign more. It usually takes more than one person to get things done. Being an effective responsible party will depend on you. You need to get clarity. You need to understand the amount of authority (i.e. degrees of freedom) you have. This delegation comes from the accountableparty. In short, you need to understand your guardrails - where can you make decisions on your own and when do you need to send them up the chain. It is like putting the bumpers up on the bowling lanes. Once you have your guardrails you can experiment, take risks and fail fast since you know what degrees of freedom your accountable party has given you. Guardrails might initially seem restrictive, but they will actually free your creativity. Negotiate your guardrails!

C – Consulted: Essentially this is over-production, which in Lean Systems terms is a form a waste. A mindset or culture plagued by the accountability virus can slow the pace of innovation and undermine and/or frustrate the responsible party (the one doing the work). To minimize this negative impact, it is important to identify, up front, who is impacted and when and why they need to be consulted. Be positive and proactive. Seek out those that can further the vision. Continue to consult with others while maintaining the decision framework of RACI (i.e. the buck stops with the accountable party). Keep the consulted parties engaged - they need to know that the broader team is listening.

I – Informed: These are the team members that just need to be kept in the loop on the progress of the work rather then dragged through all of the details. Usually they just need to know if the key milestones are being met. A great strategy for this group is periodic updates. While you might be reluctant to fill their inbox with updates, this is important as the project could change over time and these informed parties might move from informed to consulted should the scope of the effort change and begin to impact their area. If that happens, you need to rethink your key stakeholders.

A RACI Summary:

If you can begin to introduce these RACI concepts to your teams, your manager and your peers, you too can help end human suffering at work as you will develop the skills and common language to tackle complex problems with a lot more clarity and much better results. You will be able to lead (which is not always easy), empower others through clear delegation with guardrails and, all the while, keeping everyone connected to the shared vision.

Join us to end human suffering at work. Learning about RACI is just one way to start the journey.

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Amanda Aghdami

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