The Accountability Game

Everything I write about is easier said than done. You can read a whole book on boundaries but still take years to utter one (I know because I did that). There’s no easy way to learn a skill, in my experience, without effing it up a million times, and for that you need a safe environment for practice.

This is a game I sometimes play in workshops when we discuss the theme of accountability. It corresponds to Accountability aspect of High Performing Teams, in the Lencioni model.

This is an exercise that familiarizes people with the practice of holding each other accountable, which helps create team power generated organically out of the strength of the group.

If you actually have a team charter with some working agreements, you can play the game with those. If not these are a good alternative just for playing the game:

Marble Mash has the following working agreements in their charter.

  • Criticize problems, not people
  • Be open minded
  • Don’t take project-related criticism personally
  • Show up on time, and if you cannot, contact the group
  • Be prepared
  • Stay creative and take risks
  • End meetings on time

Rules of the game

Each participant gets a chance to play “boundary tester” & “boundary keeper”. Boundary testing is done by offering an example “violation” and boundary keeping is done by addressing the violator using the Boundary Template:

I noticed x

It is a problem because y

What I want is z

What about you/how do you see it

For example, if Jessica goes first, she may say,

We are in the planning meeting, and I start attacking James on the work he submitted, saying, this is just sooo typical James, he’s so lazy and unprofessional.

Having offered up this move, anyone in the group may now hold Jessica accountable and play boundary keeper, using the template.

So in this example, Sarah may step up and say:

Jessica, when you say that James is lazy and unprofessional, it sounds like you’re attacking him as a person rather than constructively criticizing his work. This is a problem for me because I want this team environment to be safe to make mistakes, and we also have a working agreement that we “criticize problems, not people”. What I want instead is that you tell us more about what you’re frustrated about, and the problems you see in the work, so that we can understand what needs to be done to solve this without harming James. What do you think?

Now that Sarah has had a chance to hold accountable, it’s her turn to submit a “violation”. Like this you go round until everyone has had a chance to do both things.

Goal: helps participants get comfortable with using the boundary format and with the idea of holding each other accountable for important things.

Thanks for reading!

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