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Accountability in a Self Managed Organization

Last year, I wrote an article about creating accountability in our self organized team Ekipa. Since then, we have tried several variants of an ‘accountability system’. Before I share the details, let me first give some background on Ekipa:

Ekipa is a 100% self managed organization without any hierarchy. Everybody is an owner and everybody shares in our success and income. Everybody works on the things he wants to contribute and we don’t’ have fixed job descriptions. We co-work with our customers to help them bring entrepreneurship and agility to their organization. Together, we create the company we want Ekipa to be and we create better lives for ourselves and the people we serve. We’re co-workers.

Self Organized Team

The basic challenge in the organizational form we have chosen is that most people are not used to ‘working without a boss’. The basic premise of the traditional hierarchy is that we have a ‘boss’ and an ‘executor’. The boss gives direction to the executor and checks whether the executor did what he asked. If he does what the boss asked, he will get rewarded (more money or a step up the hierarchy). If he doesn’t do what the boss says, he’ll get reprimanded and eventually fired. Most decisions are also taken by the boss. Most problems move up the hierarchy to the boss.

My personal dream for Ekipa as the founder is to not be needed at all. I want to take no decisions except about direction or big investments. I do not want to solve other people’s problems. I do not want to control what my team is doing. I don’t want to have a say in almost anything that happens. I may want to do some training and consultancy as long as I like doing that. But I definitely don’t want to be a boss.

To make this possible, I described accountability in our ‘Ekipa reinvented’, which is our playbook for running the business.

Accountability in agile

The past year, we noticed that if we use a traditional system in which individuals are accountable for certain priorities, the system isn’t optimal yet. There is no boss to check whether the priorities are executed, so some people got lost and didn’t move things forward enough. As described above, other people have the responsibility to inspect what their co-workers are doing. This should keep people accountable for completing their priorities, but practice showed it doesn’t.

The new variant we have started using this year is using chapters and chapter leads. The picture looks like this:

Organisation Structure

We have teams working for specific customers. Each team has an executive coach who works more on leadership level and defines goals (using Objectives and Key Results OKRs). That part is fairly straightforward. Everyone recognizes that we must deliver high quality to our customers. The customer teams can work independently since they can support each other and also get help from the executive coach (As well as having other teams and coworkers to turn to).

Now the bottom part is about the work that must get done to bring our business forward. Traditional companies tend to hire specialists for marketing, sales, finance and HR. Since we don’t want to create silos, we decided that we only want specialists for Finance. All other work must be done by the trainers, coaches and scrum masters who also deliver services to our customers.

Two months ago, we organized a retreat in Bandung and the whole team joined. We discussed the direction of Ekipa as a company and defined some key objectives we want to achieve as a team. From that, people volunteered to form specific chapters to execute those objectives. We formed chapters for training, marketing, sales, community, materials and website. The general rule is that one person can join a maximum of two chapters. And each coworker can only be a chapter lead in 1 chapter (but can join another chapter as a team member).

To create accountability, we added the role of chapter lead. The chapter lead is accountable for executing the OKRs of the chapter. Those OKRs were developed during our retreat together with the complete chapter. They were then presented to everyone else and we could all give feedback. After some iterations after the retreat, they were all finalized (of course as we’re an agile team, we welcome change during the quarter as well, nothing is set in stone). Each chapter decides on their own how they’ll complete the OKRs and when they have their alignment sessions. Every 2 weeks, the chapter leads have a chapter lead meeting, where I as the founder also join. I am myself not a chapter lead, but join to ensure that the system starts working (once it’s mature I may step out). In the bi-weekly meeting, each chapter gives an update about his or her chapter’s accomplishments. This is also visible in a google sheet for everyone and the sheet includes a ‘% completed’. Other chapter leads give feedback and ask a question so everyone stays focused. I personally tell each chapter lead whether I am ‘comfortable’ (which is the goal), somewhat comfortable or uncomfortable. I add reasons to this so that everyone understands if we’re on the right track.

I have discussed this setup with some other people and some remark that it looks similar to what they are used to. I think the most important thing in this setup is that it’s aimed at operating a company without having ANY boss. The chapter lead may look somewhat like a boss, BUT it’s a voluntary role and people can rotate. Nothing stays permanent. And there is also no special power with the chapter lead other than the accountability to complete the quarterly plan (which is a team effort). The chapter lead acts more like a coach, helping the chapter complete all their work. There is also no rewards or ‘higher up position’ that anyone can get. So people take up roles because they want to contribute.

So far, I am satisfied with the new system as we see real progress since we started the chapter system. As things evolve, I will share more insights in later articles.


About Hugo Messer

Hugo Messer has been building and managing teams around the world for over 10 years. His passion is to enable people that are spread across cultures, geography and time zones to cooperate. Whether it’s offshoring or near-shoring, he knows what it takes to make a global collaboration work. He has written 6 books about managing remote teams.
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