Avoiding the Accountability Bat

Photo by Dan Pearce

Photo by Dan Pearce

For the longest time, the word “accountability” bothered me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’m a fairly responsible person. Before saying yes to something new, I try to pause and reflect on what I’m committing myself to and what I might need to say no to as a result. Being held responsible for my commitments is fine. So what is it about “accountability” that makes me feel anxious?

One day as I heard someone talking about how people need to be held accountable throughout their organization in order for real change to happen, I felt the anger and frustration in her voice. Her values hadn’t been honored. Sadly, I sensed she wanted to shame people for not doing their jobs the way she wanted. It’s like she was holding a baseball bat in her hands as she talked about needing to hold people accountable. No wonder I felt uncomfortable.

Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job. They are not children who require babysitting. They are humans who are trying, doing the best that they can, and occasionally making mistakes. Christopher Avery has a great view on accountability:

Accountability is external. Accountability is always a relationship between you and somebody else. Whether or not you are held to account isn’t up to you — it’s up to that other person.

We all need feedback in order to know how we’re doing and what we can improve, and the way that we deliver that message matters tremendously. We can show up with our imaginary baseball bats, hurt relationships, and allow a toxic culture to develop when we hold people accountable. Or we can be in alignment with our values and have healthy conversations about expectations, how are current behaviors are impacting others, and the results they’re producing. Accountability can build relationships and a culture of trust or it can be an excuse to tear people down. What is it doing in your organization?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Agile Coaching without Poking, Prodding, or Nagging

Photo by Drew Somervell

Photo by Drew Somervell

While co-presenting on the topic of Scrum Master as Team Coach, I realized that there is a misconception that an agile coach is someone who forces the team to follow agile methods. As an agile coach, I would like teams to become agile and ultimately successful in learning, improving, and delivering, but I’ve learned something very important: I can’t want it for them. A big part of my job is helping others to see possibilities that they didn’t previously and take action to achieve the next level.

So here’s the truth: coaching isn’t about pulling people to join your thinking, and it’s not about pushing them to do what you would like them to do. It’s not teaching classes and then telling people the mistakes they’re making afterwards.

Agile teams are self-organizing. Stand with them and invite them to see what the future may hold. Listen to them and help them find clarity. Inspire them. Encourage them to take action and provide accountability—judgment-free accountability that allows them to account for their action and use it as feedback.  Not blaming or nagging or beating them up.

Lyssa Adkins explained it well in her book Coaching Agile Teams:

Set your coaching tone to these frequencies: loving, compassionate, and uncompromising.

There’s a trite, but true, saying in coaching: A friend loves you just the way you are. A coach loves you too much to let you stay that way.

Love them too much to let them stay as they are, and let this be the seed of your uncompromising stance.  Loving, yes.  Compassionate, yes.  And 100% uncompromising.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.