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Dysfunctions of a Business Intelligence Team: Lack of Accountability

Originally published November 17, 2010

Patrick Lencioni’s popular best-selling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, contrasts the characteristics of dysfunctional and productive teams. It is an easy-to-understand model that reflects the experiences we’ve had with business intelligence (BI) teams over the last eighteen years.

This is the fifth article in the series Five Dysfunctions of a Business Intelligence Team. In July, I wrote an overview of the five dysfunctions. In August, James Wood looked more deeply at the first dysfunction – the lack of trust. In September, Lorna Rickard explored how fear of conflict manifests itself within teams. In October, David Green and Ginger Ward-Green focused on lack of commitment, the third dysfunction from Patrick Lencioni’s model. This article will look at the fourth dysfunction, the lack of accountability in business intelligence teams.

Figure 1: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Source: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

The word “accountability” is overused and “lack of accountability” is frequently touted as the reason why BI initiatives fail. Although the word “accountability” may evoke images of management enforcement, the top-down approach is not the most effective means of maintaining high standards on a team or achieving high levels of accountability. Peer pressure is more efficient than policies or systems. The anxiety of letting down respected team members is a key motivation for performance.

I recall one of the first multi-tiered architecture projects I managed in the early '90s that, in hindsight, was actually a data warehouse project with a different label. We were given the task of demonstrating that we could deliver information through multiple front-end tools from multiple source systems. The existing environment included eight different hardware and software platforms, and we had a timeframe of eleven weeks. It was one of the most exciting and successful projects I had ever been a part of. I do not recall anyone talking about “Agile” then, but one of the key factors in our success was the urgency and accountability created in our daily meetings. In these daily meetings, we quickly went through each person’s tasks, priorities, and obstacles, including the vendor reps. As each person shared his or her individual contribution and status, it created a positive pressure between peers. As each vendor shared whether they were able to overcome the challenges we faced with their product in front of their competitors, it created a positive pressure to resolve issues. Action items were quickly identified and resolved because of peer pressure and the accountability each person felt to address his or her part.

Today, we see successful data warehousing/business intelligence (DW/BI) initiatives that utilize Agile and many that do not. The key factor is not that it was an Agile methodology or that there were daily stand-up meetings or whether the executives managed the day-to-day accountabilities. Although those items factor in, the real leverage is in peer accountability. Accountability should not always require the presence of the team lead or the manager. It is grounded in the idea that peer pressure and the unpleasant potential for letting down a colleague is more motivating than fear of authority.

However, if you are a team leader or manager, this does not let you off the hook. Accountability needs to become a part of the team’s culture and has to be modeled by you as the leader. And for many leaders, it is frequently easier to hold individuals accountable for results but not for behaviors. But since behavioral problems almost always precede results, it’s critical to call people on behavioral issues even though it may be uncomfortable. One important area where this can be demonstrated and addressed is meetings.

For example, in a team meeting, one individual decides to deviate from the stated agenda and spends five minutes complaining about the lack of business involvement in the BI program. Another team member opens his laptop and ignores the planned discussion on data standards. Both individuals are solid performers and achieve results so the team leader doesn’t say anything. What tone does this set for the team? If everyone observes that the leader does not have the courage to call people on their behavior, it’s likely they will not be comfortable saying anything either. Conversely, if the leader can redirect the off-topic complaint or request that the laptop be put aside, he/she is demonstrating the type of action that is desirable from other participants in their interactions with each other.

One of the largest obstacles to achieving peer accountability is overcoming the hesitance to give each other critical feedback. Sometimes people think it will risk their positive relationship; but, ultimately, if there is a lack of long-term accountability, the positive relationships disappear anyway. Not that it is comfortable to step into these conversations, but continuing to ignore the constructive feedback will not breed a culture of accountability. It hurts the team and it hurts the teammates themselves.

In order for team members to hold each other accountable, they must know what each person is working on. The best way to do this is usually a quick thirty-second update during meetings of each person’s top priorities for that day or week. If anyone feels that those priorities are not the best use of time or that they need their involvement in another area, this would be the time to bring it up. This needs to be done within the context of the team’s goals and objectives so that proactive actions can be taken to ensure results.

Accountability is most effective when it is modeled by the BI leader and ultimately occurs directly among peers on the BI team. Accountability requires a willingness to confront poor behavior, especially during team meetings. Of course, this assumes that the other dysfunctions related to trust, conflict, and commitment have been addressed and accountability can be built upon that foundation.


Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA, 2002.
  • Maureen ClarryMaureen Clarry

    Maureen is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT), an Xtivia company. CONNECT specializes in data, technical, and organizational solutions for business intelligence. Maureen has been on the faculty of TDWI since 1998, served on the Board for the Colorado Chapter of TDWI, and participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for the University of Denver. CONNECT has been recognized as the South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, the Top 25 Women Owned and Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen can be reached at mclarry@connectknowledge.com or 303-730-7171, ext. 102.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Maureen's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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