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Accountability Chart Mistakes

I recently led an EOS™ Annual Meeting™ with a long-term client. There was a special urgency to reviewing their Accountability Chart™ this year because the previous year had been a very difficult one for this construction company. The shortage of qualified workers meant that the Leadership Team often found themselves going out into the field to either provide much needed direction or to actually do some of the required fieldwork. This, of course, took time away from their key accountabilities, so many important leadership tasks did not get done on time. I felt we needed to review the Accountability Chart and each position’s key accountabilities to confirm that we had the correct organizational structure with all accountabilities clearly identified.

This is a classic Accountability Chart right out of Traction by Gino Wickman. It differs from an organizational chart because it focuses on positions, not people, and for each position there are three to five key responsibilities that the position is accountable for. An Accountability Chart makes the company’s structure and accountabilities perfectly clear. It ensures that everyone understands and focuses on what they are accountable for.

As we reviewed the client’s Accountability Chart, we agreed that we did have the right structure. The structure had worked well for us in the past. We had everyone positioned to do what they are best at. So what had gone wrong the previous year?

Most people know the phrase “Stay in your lane.” That means everyone should focus on their key accountabilities and let everyone else focus on theirs. Don’t get involved in someone else’s area of responsibility because that only leads to confusion and conflict. The following diagram illustrates the idea of “Don’t go across the Accountability Chart:”

A person might say that going across the Accountability Chart is an excellent example of teamwork, of team members stepping up to help. Actually, the behavior of going across the Accountability Chart is masking problems that the team needs to address. Does one department need help because they are short-staffed? Or are they missing some expertise that they need to get from another department? Or are they simply not meeting the expectations of the job? As long as one department covers for a weak or underperforming department, management will be unaware of a key and hidden weakness in its Accountability Chart, and it will be unable to address and resolve the weakness. That weakness will manifest itself during stressful times, when the company will unexpectedly underperform.

But going across the Accountability Chart is not what gave us problems the prior year. We had people leave their seat on the Accountability Chart and do work at a level below them. They went down the Accountability Chart, like this:

Again, this might look like an excellent example of teamwork, but it is even more detrimental behavior than not staying in one’s lane. A person is put in the box on the Accountability Chart where they will be using their Unique Abilities™, the things that they excel at and can use to contribute the most to the team. When they leave that seat and do work that is supposed to be done by someone lower on the Accountability Chart, they are no longer using the Unique Abilities. They are now underperforming. It means that they are essentially costing the company money. We pay them $X to sit in their seat, but they are now doing work that can be done for $Y, so we are overpaying them for that work. The other obvious problem is that the key leadership duties that they are supposed to be doing are not getting done. Both of these problems will be hugely detrimental to the team’s performance during stressful times.

We discussed the issue of going down the Accountability Chart at our Annual Meeting and got commitments from the team members not to do that again this year. Everyone agreed that they would speak up when they were put into a position where they were tempted to do so. The lesson that day was not only “Stay in Your Lane,” but also “Don’t Go Down!”

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