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Creating a Culture of Accountability within your Agile Team

Category: Agile Leadership

Creating a Culture of Accountability within your Agile Team

Date of Release: July 13th, 2023
Reading Time: 03 mins


Written by Stephen Otterstrom

Accountability serves as the vital link connecting tasks to objectives and aligning individuals across an organization. It plays a crucial role in the product development process within, and without, Agile methodologies. Without accountability, organizations become a chaotic collection of random ideas and lack the ability and agility to progress toward their vision.

Traditionally accountability was framed in a linear and sequential environment (Waterfall Structure). “A” was accountable to “B”, and “B” was accountable to “C.” Within this Waterfall structure, accountability was easy to map on a RACI matrix, and project blockages could be simply identified and resolved.

Today many individuals work in an Agile structure and accountability is distributed among the entire cross-functional teams (i.e. Product Owners, Developers, and other stakeholders). Here, there is often no simple map of each team member’s activities. Because of this non-linear structure, a sanctions-based approach to generating accountability quickly devolves into a metaphorical murder mystery blame game, complete with plot twists and ambiguous evidence of, “who done it” or “who didn’t.”

In an Agile structure, it is often impractical to “hold” individuals accountable. Instead, a culture of accountability must be cultivated so that individuals choose to take accountability. Accountability is not a process or policy. It is a mindset, and when enough people share it, it becomes a culture.

By learning to foster the principles below, agile organizations can enjoy continuity of purpose and other benefits such as:

  • Teamwide commitment to delivering value to the customer.
  • A continuous improvement mindset in Agile.
  • A culture of transparency and open communication.
  • Team members making decisions that impact the product development process.
  • Enhancing the team’s ability to adapt to changing requirements and market dynamics.

Regardless of the project development structure in your organization, a focus on the following five principles is an important first steps to creating a culture of accountability:

  1. Personal Choice For accountability:

Each individual must choose to take accountability.  When we attempt to force accountability the employees’ goal will shift from achieving an objective to avoiding punishment. While there may be a place for discipline, we should not deceive ourselves into believing we are creating accountability.

  1. Empowerment as a Catalyst:

Empowerment is the fertile ground where accountability flourishes. To foster accountability, individuals must have the authority and autonomy to make changes to processes when they perceive them as inadequate for achieving objectives. Empowered employees feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to proactively contribute to the organization’s success.

  1. Psychological Safety:

There must be a safe space to get it wrong. Empowerment is not perfect. Accountability does not mean always achieving the objective. It does mean being able to ask for help early and often. When individuals and team members cannot ask for help, they are more inclined to hide suboptimal results.

  1. Accountability is curious:

At the core of accountability is the question, “Are our current processes the best way to achieve our objectives?” It is the curiosity in accountability that leads to the innovations that accomplish our overarching goals.

  1. Intrinsic Rewards:

Accountability is inherently rewarding when individuals can see the impact of their work and feel a sense of pride in their contributions. While external reward systems can have their place, a focus on meaningful work and recognizing the value individuals bring can create a stronger foundation for intrinsic motivation. Individuals want to know that their efforts matter and make a difference.

Fostering a culture of accountability requires a shift in mindset and the implementation of key principles. Agile teams will be better equipped to deliver high-quality products that meet customer expectations while maximizing value and fostering a culture of collaboration and excellence.

By emphasizing personal choice, empowerment, psychological safety, curiosity, and intrinsic rewards, organizations can create an environment where accountability becomes a natural part of the organizational DNA. This culture of accountability aligns individuals with organizational objectives, promotes continuous improvement, and fuels value delivery to the customer.

If you are ready to embark on the journey of developing accountability best practices in an agile context, we encourage you to explore the specialized courses on which are offered by 7sparx consulting training team. These courses provide practical tools, strategies, and personalized guidance tailored to help you unlock your true potential and thrive in the agile landscape.

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