top of page

The RACI is dead - let's talk accountability

The Six Nations (the annual rugby union tournament between England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales) is underway, and I've watched a few games. One thing that always amazes me about rugby is how far back the coaches and managers sit from the field. They aren't on the field during the game shouting directions. Yes, they send messages and make changes, but in the game, the players make the decisions and are accountable for the outcomes.

Football (or soccer, depending on where you are in the world) is completely different. Managers on football games' sidelines shout, motivate, and instruct their teams. They assume full accountability for the outcome through their presence on the sideline (or touchline). The players are responsible for their tasks, while the football manager is accountable for the game's result. I frequently wonder why the manager is held accountable for players' decisions on game day. Isn't the player closer to the action, and don't they have to answer for the judgements they make in the heat of battle?

The distinction between rugby and football management and where accountability lies also appears in the workplace, and in most cases, management in our workplaces is far closer to football management. If you've ever taken a project management course, you've probably heard of the RACI matrix (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed). Its goal is similar to that of a football manager, to allocate responsibility for specific tasks and roles while separating accountability and allocating it to a more senior manager.

I increasingly find that the RACI model no longer serves the organizations I am consulting for. The split between responsibility and accountability is artificial, resulting in decision-making involving more people and diffuse accountability. Raconteur's recent research discovered that 94% of the time, at least six people have input on organizational decisions, and 20% of the time, 16 people do. The result is a lack of clarity, confusion, and demotivation. People want to feel like they have ownership over something and see the link between what they do and the results. To achieve this, we need a simpler, clearer framework for decision-making within organizations in an increasingly uncertain and fast-paced world. The rise of AI is fundamentally changing how we engage with work and should encourage us to focus more on the things that humans do well - creativity and seeing the hidden connections.

So let's eliminate the distinction between accountability and responsibility (even as I write this, Grammarly keeps trying to get me to use the two words interchangeably anyway!). The difference between these two concepts is artificial. In this article, the CEO of Jellyfish describes how his company has eliminated the separation between these concepts to overcome decision paralysis. Using our analogy of rugby and football, there is a shift towards rugby's management approach at Jellyfish. In rugby, the manager works with the team during the week to prepare for the game, helping the players to improve their skills, designing a game plan, and agreeing on each player's accountabilities. The players in the game take on that accountability and work to deliver the results. At Jellyfish, the same thing happens; accountability rests with the individual closest to the task and with the most knowledge. The managers are responsible for selecting the right individuals for the game plan, developing their understanding, and building their skills to execute it.

We radically alter a senior manager's responsibilities by erasing the artificial divide between accountability and responsibility. Their work focuses on developing people and making judgement calls on who should be accountable for what task or set of tasks. These are the most significant decisions you will make in leadership; how to organize and enable your staff or employees to take on accountability for key tasks (see Judgement, how winning leaders make great calls). Allocating accountability to one person for a task does not exclude others from the process. Instead, it makes it much clearer who is making decisions and who is accountable when those decisions go wrong.

Being clear about accountability, and doing away with the separation between responsibility and accountability, is a powerful choice. It doesn't absolve an individual's boss, top leaders in a firm, or the CEO of accountability. Instead, it shifts the question: if a line manager is not accountable for the output because they are not as close to the task or as knowledgeable, they are still accountable for growing the employee, supporting them, and checking in on progress (including finding out why something is running behind or blocked). This shift is about trust. Accountability is about trust. When you become accountable for anything, you are trusted to accomplish the activity, regardless of the environment - corporate, voluntary, public sector, etc. By making people accountable, you say I have faith in your ability to make decisions and complete this task and that I have given you the skills to do so. It is a point that Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, articulates so clearly in her conversation with Adam Grant.

For a system of accountability to work, it relies on two key criteria.

First, all tasks must have clearly defined boundaries and clarity on the expected outcome. We need to put accountability on the doorstep of the person who will deliver the task. That means being clear about the desired result and the boundaries for the task - what someone should always do and never do.

Second, delegation is key. If a manager is accountable for too many tasks, then they are not accountable. Much like the adage, if you have three top priorities, you don't have priorities. Accountability works when people are clear about what they are accountable for and when managers train their teams to take accountability rather than hold on to decisions.

Framework for effective delegation

Returning to rugby, it is not that the manager is not accountable for their team's performance. They are accountable for how their decisions, support, and development of their players' skills play out over time. It is not their duty to 'impact' a single incident in a game or even a single game. It is their job to cultivate trust in their squad, develop their players, and create a culture of accountability. Their job is to establish a team that will be successful in the long run. By focusing on accountability and making it clear what someone is accountable for and how they are accountable, we build people's confidence and self-belief; as a result, decision-making becomes faster and more effective. It's time to move on from the RACI and focus on articulating clear accountability.


Let's connect.


If you found this blog engaging, have questions about ordinary leadership or want to chat about leadership in general, it would be great to connect.


I set aside two weekly hours to make new connections and renew old ones. We have half an hour to discuss whatever you want - how we could work together, your projects and ideas, or something else. It's space for connection.

You can book a slot here, and there is more background here.

bottom of page