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I totally agree that accountability is key but I am not sure vertical hierarchies give you that much accountability other than on the face of it.

I firmly believe that the real benefits of more networked ways of working will only be achievable when people are willing to be, and learn to be, more personally accountable.

The compete audit-ability of online interactions maybe holds out a new way of tracking responsibilities?

Dominic Sayers

This post seems like it finishes half-way through, or I am too dumb to join the dots.

Have I got this right? Social businesses need Good Practice more than hierarchical ones. Effective transfer of accountability is an example of Good Practice. Nobody wants to be accountable so this hinders adoption of this organisational model.

But incentivising people to accept tasks for which they are accountable is not hard - it's called money.

And a tool to underpin the barely-repeatable process of transferring both tasks and accountability should not be beyond the wit of man either. Note to self: must check out Thingamy (again) :-)


Euan, agree with your "not so sure" there, absolutely, hierarchies are very far from perfect in regards accountability transfer. How could we expect it to be, it' a thousands of years old method.

Even if the hierarchical model has been propped up by hundred years of business schools, about 40'000 business handbook in print at any time and so forth it's still is no better than in the days of Roman centurions and decurions. (That in itself should tip us off that time is ripe to replace it or what?)

Networked ways most definitely, the strict hierarchy is an abomination, but the "replacement" need to disseminate information effectively and precisely, then record all that happens. Networking alone is not enough, process must be included - hence thinking networking alone will do the trick would be false I think.


Dominic, you're not dumb! Heh :)

And you have a good point there, "Practice" is indeed a mechanism that often work (another word for "this is how we always do it"), but it's a part-mechanism of the hierarchical model so not a replacement.

But I cannot really see adding "Good Practice" to Social Business as doing much - the clash is between the networking and the hierarchy, and that in itself is all good. But to see Social Business (networking only) being able to replace the hierarchy I am doubtful, that is until Social Business tools/solutions also addresses the crucial accountability issue.

Dominic Sayers

In this context, I meant Good Practice to mean following a widely-accepted standard (highly cohesive, in other words).

In a hierarchical organization, standard practice is whatever is imposed by those who hold the levers. In a Social Business it is a pragmatic, negotiated standard that benefits both parties in an interaction.

I'm thinking of large organizations that have specialized departments like Finance and IT, sometimes outsourced. All the other departments end up with their own accountants and technologists simply to overcome the constraints imposed by the self-interested patterns of the specialist departments.

In a network of Social Businesses equal in size to that large organization, the IT and finance specialists live with the front-office departments they serve, but they work to a common standard arising from mutual agreement.

The accountability arises from the manageable size of these small, federated organizations - everybody knows each other and there are no rocks to hide under. The Good Practice arises from good communication. All of this is fostered by social tools.

There's nothing special about the tools - we could do it with Usenet, Gopher and email at a pinch. It's the fact there is a critical mass of people who see the value in working this way that makes it realistic to run a Social Business today and finally put an end to Coase's Theorem.


Interesting Dominic, what you describe there, departments creating their own local expertise I would take as an argument for what I'm saying:

Using resources outside of the given hierarchical structure is nay impossible, but still that's a true waste of resources if such expertise exists already.

But using them cannot solely be enabled by connection alone (networking as is usual by Social Business tools) you need an accountability mechanism as well, so far only delivered by the hierarchy but not by Social Business tools.

What's needed is a tool that has both the networking/communication ability as well as the accountability transfer ability - in my view only to be had if there is a process engine underneath that delivers all pertinent information for the task, captures the task handover, then captures what happens in the task - only then will you have an alternative to the current only accountability-transfer mechanism of hierarchies.


Accountability is key to transferring work within a hierarchical organization, but I think we should consider a different concept – reciprocity – as the mechanism for successful task transfer in networked systems. Reciprocity is the expectation that if someone has done (or will do) something for you, then you owe (or will owe) them a favor in return. You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.

Reciprocity aids successful work transfer in loosely-coupled relationships because it behooves the requester to provide as many of the resources needed to complete the task as possible to the person he is handing off to. If one hands another a steaming, smelly bag, one can reasonably expect the same when that person cashes in the reciprocity IOU. The Golden Rule is very much in effect in networked organizations, pushing individuals transferring work to do so in both the most effective and efficient manner. It's all about karma.



interesting... hmm.

First off I would say that accountability/responsibility is crucial in any type of setting, and the important aspect of it is that it's a chain that cannot be broken: It always starts with one person, prompted by an idea, an issue/need to fix or a request. Now that person is accountable, either towards somebody else or towards himself - as in "I'd better get this done!".
If that person works with others (and that we do more often than not) then he/she cannot live without a transfer of responsibility/accountability. I would not like that at least :)

As to reciprocity, that would require accountability as well I would think, or what?

Being accountable means in short "that I'll do it, no doubt", and without that the chain breaks down. And the chain is important, but I can see a perfect reciprocity network can become a chain - albeit with one little question:

If I'm part of a chain, I would be interested, nah, have a vested interest in the progress and hence how the others are doing, i.e. I would argue there is indeed a need for "accountability" towards all involved and not only the direct connection, the next chain only.


Yes, reciprocity does require accountability. If you are not accountable to another for something you have agreed to do, the other person will not reciprocate, period.

A big difference separating social business theory from traditional management concepts is that the former does not seem to require a mechanism for tracking task progress up and down the reciprocity chain – at least not in the minds of social business purists. I agree with you that the ability to query and view the state of a task assigned via social relationship rather than hierarchy would be not only a useful time-saver, but a necessary component of enterprise social software offerings. Unfortunately, task tracking is currently missing from most of this software

The one place that I do see this functionality cropping up is in lightweight project management applications and other software services that are designed for SMBs and based on Web 2.0 principles. Companies like Huddle, Basecamp, and even Box.net allow users to create simple tasks for each other, see the status of that task, and generate reminders as needed. This functionality should be in every enterprise social software package (and is currently found in some, including Traction TeamPage and Lotus Connections). Only then will organizations be able to ensure the accountability that drives productive reciprocity.



aha, you mention some of the current crop of E 2.0 solutions, and yes they're good and a decent stab at the issues, but...

Circling back to the post; I see such solutions as having a lack of a process-engine-base and hence cannot transfer the exact needed information with a task nor assure proper handoff nor truly capture full context in real time. And with that lacking the transfer of accountability suffers too. And the data model is wrong too: Documents and double-entry book keeping being mashups of representation and presentation - models of model, never smart.

I think the only way forward is to start with the process engine, then rethink the data model and stop modelling a model. Only then would we see the beginning of a proper framework replacement for the old frameworks (hierarchies etc).

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