It was a joint decision…….
That’s the sort of statement that really annoys me, along with nonsense like “it was decided by the Tuesday meeting” — as if the meeting has a consciousness and can make rational decisions. Let’s change the question: “Who is ACCOUNTABLE for the decision?” or “who is accountable for this piece of work?”.
There is a very simple rule here, this should be one and exactly one individual. I’ll call this person the “A” and it may be a named person or a specific role (from which we can determine the person). It’s usually straightforward to find out who the incumbent of a role is or, if the role becomes vacant, which deliverables then need to be reallocated.
The Accountable person must ensure that the deliverable is on-time and to the required quality. This reinforces single-point accountability, if we expect “The Tuesday Meeting” to produce a report then it will probably not get done. If we make the “Chair of the Tuesday meeting” or “Jim, who chairs the Tuesday Meeting” accountable then there is a better chance of securing delivery. The accountable person may secure support for a decision or a deliverable through “The Tuesday Meeting” but they always keep the “A”.
If we then consider “who is RESPONSIBLE for the production of the deliverable?” we are actually examining who will do the work. The person who has the “A” may do the work themselves, or they may ask another person or a group of people to produce it. They delegate RESPONSIBILITY but not ACCOUNTABILITY — they always keep “the “A”.
As we break the work down into tasks then individuals may acquire an “A” for their part but this not diminish overall accountability of change its ownership.
Sadly, many people seem to have difficulty in distinguising between the terms “accountable” and “responsible”. Often the words are used interchangeably or as synonyms for each other. The difference is important and very simple. This simple distinction forms the basis of a powerful management and governance tool — the RACI matrix.