Not My Problem

Ownership and Accountability are two different things

I was scanning my Twitter timeline today and saw this post:

@BartDeCraeneWithout a culture of ownership, issues can’t be addressed. #custserv #leadbiz

It caught my eye because it caused an apparent conflict in my mind. The post above matches my experience and intuition. At the same time, my thought was… But in a collaborative culture, isn’t collective ownership the goal to pursue?

It then came to me that I was confusing Accountability with Ownership.

We have gone too far trying to establish Personal Accountability

The current business models focus on decomposing the company mission into smaller and smaller independent task until they can be assigned to a single person. We say “this is your task, there are no dependencies with other tasks, you are fully accountable for making it happen”.

We do that because our business models evolved in a world of expensive and inefficient communication media so we can minimize the need for collaboration.

But the excessive focus on personal accountability creates the “Not my fault” syndrome, where each person loses sight of the collective mission and focus exclusively on reaching their personal goals. When things go wrong, they point to their partial targets and can say “Not my fault”.

But that does not mean we don’t need a culture of personal Ownership

While accountability and ownership are similar words on the surface, I now realize they can take opposite meanings in this context.

Independent on whether an organization operates in an environment of personal accountability or not, there is a need for leaders to create a culture of personal ownership, where each person, in addition to their partial goals, own the responsibility for their contribution to the collective goal.


I think leaders need to move away from excessive reliance on decomposition of tasks for personal accountability and, instead, focus on creating a culture of ownership.

Do you agree?

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