One of the best management experiences I ever had was coaching baseball to 8-year-olds. [Huh? Keep reading…] It was enormously gratifying seeing them start out playing T-ball, then getting them to the point where they could all hit live pitching. But that’s not my enduring memory. It was teaching them a lesson in fielding that stayed with me.
I’ll never forget the astonished look on the faces of the infielders when I explained that they should throw the ball to the first baseman before he is in position. Predictably, they asked “but what if he’s not at the base yet?” I replied “don’t worry about that. Your job is to throw the ball as soon as you catch it, and you trust the first baseman to do his job by getting to first in time to catch it. If you don’t, we’ll never get anybody out.” Fortunately, they got it. It’s counter-intuitive for the inexperienced, but magic when you see the boys (alas, no girls in those days) try it and succeed.
Same lesson for the catcher with the second baseman and shortstop to catch runners stealing. If you wait to see if the other players met their responsibility to do their jobs before doing yours, you never get anybody out, and you never win.
Most business is a team sport. The team wins when each player does what his role is expected to do, and counts on others to do what they are expected to do. By agreeing to play a specific position, you declare to your teammates that you can be counted on to do what they expect, and need, to win.
In too many ways, we relate to the word accountability as questioning who will get fired if things go wrong. A better distinction is to have everyone understand what the team is counting on them for in order to make things right.
For what can you be counted on?