Accountability Layers

Do you know where your accountability layer is?

In the ocean (as marine biologist and Tom Clancy fans well know) there is a point where warm surface water and cold water from below meet. It’s called the Thermocline layer. It’s where the heat from the sun can’t sufficiently heat the water relative to the cooling currents from below.


How does this relate to Agile or Scrum? In a couple of ways, but the one we will focus on in this post is, “Where is your Accountability Layer”?

I’m talking about the level in an organization actually tasked with TCB (Taking Care of Business).  In a waterfall project this are usually Project Managers, Resource Managers, Team Leads, etc. These roles use words like “driving” and “managing” staff. Accountability for the success or failure rests here. Sure the QA team missed a bunch of bugs but those were just missed requirements, right? If only we’d have just planned more time to get the right answers first.

Agile approaches, such as Scrum, push this layer down to the team level. The TEAM is accountable for their work. The TEAM plans and executes. The TEAM decides the best way (within the boundaries set by the organization) to achieve the goal and deliver the value.


We still need the folks at the old layer level because the Team will need help, guidance, and organization changes that they can’t manage in addition to their new TCB focus. That assistance has to come from the folks that are best at providing it – the old layer.

I really feel this isn’t often addressed in current thinking about change. Moving this layer is a huge cultural shift in addition to the obvious, practical one. Most species in the ocean live above or below the Thermocline layer- and they don’t usually cross it willingly.

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Author: Collaborative Leadership Team. Learn more about our coaches and offerings here