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Does your team take joint and several responsibility?

If time is ever wasted in your team meetings working out who was at fault for an action not being completed or a next step not being taken, then this article is definitely for you.


Joint and several responsibility is a term that is most commonly associated with mortgages and lending. When two or more parties take out a secured loan, they are usually deemed to be jointly and severally responsible for the repayment of the loan. This means that each person is one hundred per cent responsible for the loan. If one party defaults on paying the loan, the other must pay the full amount instead of only being accountable for a percentage of the repayment.


Adopting this principle when it comes to a team's culture is a huge step towards creating a truly ALIGNED® team. Imagine, for a moment, that you join your colleagues for your monthly team meeting. During that meeting, several actions are agreed upon, with each having an owner and a deadline. A month passes, and then you join your colleagues again, with the first agenda item being the review of the previous month's actions. As each action is reviewed, it becomes clear that several of them have not been carried out because the individuals were busy, unclear on what they should have done, or thought someone else would pick it up.


What does this say about the culture of your team?


I am sure that you have witnessed this. You will have been part of teams where this was the norm. It may even be your team now. At best, it is frustrating. At worst, it impacts the strategic and cultural performance of the organisation. It mustn't be tolerated, and the antidote is joint and several responsibility.


Let us rerun the scenario with a different philosophy in place. Imagine for a moment that you join your colleagues for your monthly team meeting. During that meeting, several actions are agreed, with each having an owner and a deadline.


At the midpoint between the last meeting and the next, everyone reviews the actions from the meeting. You don't just review your own actions to ensure that you have done what you said you would do, but you also check to ensure that your colleagues have hit their deadlines too. You notice that one of the actions should have been completed and the result communicated, but you haven't heard anything. You call your colleague or drop them a message to check if they have done it or need any support. They thank you for the reminder and follow through on their action. In the next meeting, the action review is quick and to the point, as everyone has done what they said they would do.


What does this say about the culture of the team? And what impact will this culture have on other teams and the organisation's performance?


Instilling a philosophy of joint and several responsibility means that it is everyone's job to ensure that we follow through on our promises. It stops unnecessary and unproductive finger-pointing and drives performance and delivery. It doesn't, however, diminish accountability. Suppose I have committed to something and don’t deliver, especially when my colleagues have prompted me. In that case, it is very clear where the accountability lies and my colleagues and my boss can act accordingly.


Joint and several accountability isn't just for meetings – it should be embedded as a philosophy into every area of a team's operation and drive performance across strategy, culture and the external experience.


If you have read this and recognise that the adoption of joint and several responsibility would help your team's performance, here are your three options.


  1. Do nothing. That is your prerogative, and inaction is a choice

  2. Buy The Alignment Advantage and learn more about ALIGNED leadership and teams

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