Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Does accountability imply authority?

Hi All!

Our organization is fairly new to Holacracy, and we occasionally have tensions that arise over the question of whether accountability implies authority. 

The perception seems to be that if an individual occupies a role that has a particular accountability, than that accountability gives them exclusive authority over performing that action.
For example, say we had a role called "Customer Service Systems" that had an accountability of "Administering our customer communication platforms," with no specific domain granted, the individual occupying that role might argue that they alone have the authority to make updates or changes to our customer communication tools. My perception, which I wanted to seek some clarity on before sharing with the team, is as follows:
  • Any role can take any action they deem necessary to express the purpose and accountabilities of their role, even if that action is not explicitly expressed as an accountability. If the Role mentioned above has a tension about how other roles are impacting our Customer Service Systems and feel there needs to be more oversight, then they would need to bring that tension to a governance meeting and propose a domain and/or policy surrounding who and how the Customer Service Systems can be updated.

 Is this an accurate perception?

2 Replies

Hi Matt

You are spot on. The misconception is over "exclusive authority".

An accountability says "anybody can do this - but we expect it of this role".

If there is something that you don't want others to do without checking with you - then you need a domain/policy.

Best wishes, Andrew 

Chris Cowan

I agree (mostly) with Andrew's answer because it is a common misconception about how accountabilites work. However, part of the reason this topic is confusing, even for experienced Holacracy practitioners, is because there are two important caveats to this. 

1) If someone is consciously taking action on an ongoing basis outside of a role they fill, but a defined role already exists, then they can only do that if they believe their action would resolve or prevent more tension for the organization than it would likely create (4.3.1.b). This is covered under the rules for Individual Action.  

Additionally, they have a duty to explain their action and the intent behind it to any partner who fills a role that may be significantly impacted.  So, yes, if the Customer Service Systems (CSS) role felt a tension about someone else doing that work, they could propose governance to restrict that, but they could also just tell them to stop. This is covered in 4.3.2. So, unless the person is doing the work of another role unknowingly (or they don't think there is any impact), the burden is actually on the person taking Individual Action to explain themselves. 

2)  A smaller caveat to the "accountabilities aren't authorities" issue, is that accountabilities do give you "authority" to process specific tensions. Of course, this isn't limited to accountabilities, it also applies to purpose. In this sense, it's more like representative power. A role-filler has certain pathways available to them (objections, proposals, etc.) that aren't available to someone outside of the role. 

I hope this helps!