Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Responsibility, Accountability, Empowerment, Autonomy

2020-11-22 — Michael Haupt

During a recent discussion at work about empowerment and autonomy for engineering teams, the topic of responsibility came up, and its relation to accountability. Some notes on this.

From my perspective, if any of the teams in my organisation make a tech choice, I'll still be accountable for what happens thereafter thanks to what the HR system says about me. :-)

The accountability thing is where empowerment and autonomy get interesting. A team may be responsible for a decision, which is perfectly fine. They're also accountable for the outcome, but so is their entire management chain, to varying degrees and in varying ways. Accountability always affects someone else too.

Imagine (content warning: highly artificial example ahead) a team inadvertently making an irreversible (I said it's artificial - this is for illustration) tech decision that turns out to have some hefty consequences in production, leading to considerable performance impacts for users. Those can be addressed by provisioning many more cloud cores. The team's manager will have to explain that to the department director, who will have to explain it to the CTO and Finance. The CTO needs to explain it to the CEO, who will have to explain the cost explosion to the board. Accountability all the way.

Responsibility is for making the decision. Accountability is for bearing the consequences, and explaining them.

This is why pure autonomy - as in "leave us alone" - can be a little bit dangerous. It's best to invest some energy in building a good and transparent relationship with those carrying the accountability.

Imagine whose lives your decisions may have an impact on. Hint: your manager is among them. ;-)

In delegation poker parlance, things that bear a certain risk shouldn't be carried out in "delegation" mode. "Advise" and "agree" would work better.

Tags: work