In large organizations with complex organization charts, myriad departments and lots of employees, seeing yourself as being accountable for the good of the whole can sound pretty ludicrous. “This organization is too big and complex! Too many things are outside my control, and I don’t have enough power!”

Organizations have spent well over a century reinforcing that idea by narrowing the focus of people’s accountability at work, sometimes all the way down to the task level. This has purposefully supported the idea that “I am responsible for my own job. If you don’t do yours, that’s not my problem.” And even if people do see this as a problem, they don’t see it as their responsibility to fix it.

While accountability is a choice that each individual makes, it also is influenced by the systems that get created at work that either promote individual achievement or a cohesive collective effort. Choosing accountability for the whole begins with a recognition that everyone is in it together. When we work together toward a common goal, our futures become inherently intertwined.

This doesn’t mean that no one is in charge — or that everybody is. Nor does it mean you can always have it your way. True accountability asks you to recognize that the actions you take as an individual affect the whole enterprise. It asks, too, that you contribute in ways that enhance the collective good and do no harm to gain advantage.

Partners are people who tell each other the truth. They talk openly about doubts and difficult issues, and they own their own contributions to a problem. They openly acknowledge when things aren’t working very well, work together to find solutions, and extend understanding and forgiveness.

Moving in this direction allows people in the organization to stop spending so much time, energy and resources trying to do the impossible — hold each other accountable. By creating new relationships based on the principles above we begin to focus on accountability as it exists – a choice we each make in the face of any circumstance.