Relatedness is the heart of high-performing teams and organizations. As stated in the Agile Manifesto, focus on “Individuals and Interactions” is essential. How we relate to ourselves and others is central to creating and maintaining effective and valuable systems. There are many mental frames that are used to discuss organizational culture and performance. In this post, I argue that relatedness trumps responsibility and accountability as a meme for change. All are valuable and necessary, however, focus on human beings and their relations provides the greatest leverage. The diagram below illustrates this hierarchy. Relatedness Responsibility Accountability


Relatedness is the connection between human beings in a system. We can describe a system as the aggregate of all the interpersonal relations. Environments of trust and safety have a high degree of relatedness between people. These are the kinds of systems that we want to create for ourselves. We do this by connecting with others and helping people in groups connect with each other. There are myriad ways to create relatedness. Simple ones include sharing food or drink. Working together on a shared goal can support this. Simple exercises such as Marketplace or teambuilding with Lego can move us towards greater relatedness. Another is the Check-in protocol where people share emotions. Improv theater has expected behaviours that support relatedness: yes-anding, making everyone else look good, mistakes are invitations to create, etc). Zappos has fun as part of company culture and uses events and activities to create connectedness. e.g. Head shaving for charity. Approaches exist for dramatic improvements in relatedness. Temenos is a retreat/workshop designed to help people see themselves and other participants as whole and valuable human beings. Other approaches include organization-wide mindfulness practices and mediation to re-wire our brains to focus on the present moment as well as to what is going on at an emotional level with ourselves and with others. Recently, I have been writing about the work of Brene Brown and how attention to our internal emotions and thoughts helps us connect with other human beings. See related posts on empathy, vulnerability and shame.


Christopher Avery views responsibility as the core to success. We want environments where people feel a sense of ownership and responsiblity for creating successful outcomes. Individuals that feel responsibile are an essential compenent of a high-performing systems: they will notice what needs doing and make it happen. So why is it often better to focus energy on relatedness versus responsibility? A system where people have a high degree of relatedness will foster strong responsibility. People will be motivated to take action because they care and understand about the impact on others. So when we start with relatedness, responsibility will follow. It is also the case that relatedness will increase when people act with responsiblity, but this is not as strong an effect. Both relatedness and responsibility are valuable. When it is appropriate to cultivate relatedness in a system, then this will set a stronger foundation for system health and growth.


There are some who argue that accountability is the key to greater performance. One example of this is Change the Culture: Change the Game where Conners and Smith explain how accountabilty can be used to increase organizational performance. There are lot’s of valuable contirbutions from the book discussion culture change, however, the central tenet “The most effective culture is a culture of accountability” is not aligned with more recent notions of organizational design and culture. Tobias Mayer has a great post where he clarifies the tension between responibility and accountability. Tobies shares this quote : “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” said Pasi Sahlberg, one of the chief architects of Finland’s successful school reforms. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” Although, accountability is required and a direct focus on accountability will get positive results in most dysfunctional systems, this  is not the full story. If we want a high-performance system, however, the best way to get accountabilty is by cultivating relatedness and responsibilty. Direct focus on accountability is hazardous to more evolved human systems.


I would like to thank those who have helped me on my journey to understand human relatedness as central to high-functioning systems. In particular, Siraj Sirajuddin, Pascal Pink and Olaf Lewitz have been powerful influences. I would also like to thank the participants of Temenos workshops for cultivating my ability to deeply connect with others.