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'Team' versus 'Individual' Accountability

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In a recent workshop with an experienced leadership team of a high profile organization, some of the participants had difficulty in understanding the concept of 'collective' rather than 'individual' accountability.  Here are some thoughts on the subject.

Almost all the exercises in a "CorporateTheatre" workshop elicit very high levels of creative and collaborative performances from the teams.  Some of the exercises are not competitive per se, yet there is the inevitable and underlying urge in each team to be the best.  This is healthy and natural, for even when there is the keenness to outperform, there is also the readiness to applaud the excellence of other teams.

Other workshop exercises are fiercely competitive under constantly changing and increasingly challenging scenarios, calling for intensively creative and demanding performances from individuals within a team, as well as from the team as a whole.  Even so, success is shared as a collective celebration, and failure is seen as a collective responsibility.  Even when the failure has resulted from the inadequate performance of a particular individual, there is no ‘blame-storming’.  In fact, others in the team can be seen consoling and reassuring the person who was primarily responsible for the failure.

In one case, a team scored no points in a critical round because they did not make out what the designated leader of that round was trying to communicate. Strangely enough, the team nominated the same person as the leader for the last and final round at more than double the score.  When I asked the team, why they had done this, they said,

"Our failure in the last round was not because of the leader's performance, but because we were not creative in the way we perceived his actions.  It was our fault and not his.  We think he did a great job."

This team went on to win the contest !

When the experience is processed, one of the insights that is regularly shared is that, irrespective of failure, no one felt like a ‘loser’.  There was complete trust in each other’s undiluted commitment to the team’s collective success, and this made failure part of the team’s learning journey.  (In fact, very often in the workshops, it is a team that has failed in the beginning that goes on to win in the end.)

Collective accountability set within a ‘natural’ team framework evokes much higher levels of accountability on the part of each individual, than can be got from primarily focusing on individual accountability. When the policy framework stresses individual accountability and primarily appraises and rewards individual performance, it often creates competition within a team.  This is counterproductive to team instinct. When accountability is thrust on the individual, they focus primarily on their own roles and performance rather than on team goals and performance.  They find it difficult to collaborate by investing in the roles and performances of others within the team.

Instead when the team is held collectively accountable for a goal, and rewarded for collective excellence, the team elicits total commitment and accountability from individuals in a way that strengthens the power of team instinct.  An individual who is not able or willing to contribute, or to take on responsibility for the team’s goal with total commitment, will not find a place in the team for very long.

As demonstrated consistently during the workshops, this collective accountability does not preclude the recognition and rewarding of individual excellence.  As mentioned several times elsewhere in this blog, a 'natural' team knows how to celebrate and reward their star performers.  The difference is, in this case, the stars and the team get equally motivated.

For more insights into 'natural' teams, and 'star performers', please refer to the other posts in my blog, www.theatreforlearning.blogspot.com.

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