Does Individual Accountability Imply Inability to Prioritize?

In conversation today, we hit on an interesting idea. It’s truthy; I’m not sure whether it’s true. In the experience of the people in the room, the following two statements were identical:

  1. Tasks, and responsibilities, are done by individuals. Individuals are accountable for outcomes.
  2. Every person in the company is assigned multiple parallel tasks, stopping at the point where each person has the number of tasks which makes them ineffectual.

The places where we have not seen #2 all do team-based task ownership, responsibility, and accountability. Is this true in your experience as well?

Does this imply that #2 is the natural result of #1? If so, does that mean that prioritization and doing one thing until it is done necessarily requires team-based work patterns?

The ability to focus on one thing, ship it, and start collecting revenue is a large advantage in the marketplace (as compared to the company that implements multiple things at once and so delivers later). If the above is true, then is individual accountability an inherent maladaption to business survival? Of course, it can provide other advantages (particularly ease of central control). But aren’t those the ingredients for a technological disruption to a market? Is team-based work allocation a potential disruptivve technology?

3 thoughts on “Does Individual Accountability Imply Inability to Prioritize?”

  1. When working solo, I always multi-task. Maybe 5 tasks at once.

    When pairing, multi-tasking is awkward. We can do it a little (2 tasks) but usually just 1.

    When mobbing, I find multi-tasking to be near impossible.

  2. Since reading this, I repeatedly see my organization make make the decision to accept a delay of our #1 most important item, by asking us to work on another item at the same time (and another, and another…). Perhaps staying busy is more important than delivering value.

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