Triangle of Accountability

September 3, 2019

It’s been more than six years since online retailer Zappos ditched the traditional siloed department structure and transitioned to holocracy: a flat, self-managed organization.

In this system, traditional top-down reporting lines are replaced by work Circles (think teams, not departments) that operate next to, and on top of, each other. Instead of jobs, people have roles.

Zappos wants each of its employees to have “the minimal number of constraints that enable maximum freedom, but also maximum accountability.”

As Zappos developed this strategy, it learned that giving employees autonomy was good, but there needed to be guard rails. While the company held true to its core purpose of “Delivering Wow,” Zappos realized it needed a system that helped its employees work on what they’re passionate about, but also brings value to coworkers and customers.

To accomplish this, Zappos created the Triangle of Accountability. One side keeps employees grounded to the company’s core principles and behaviors that define the organization. The second side reminds employees of the customer-focused mindset embraced by Zappos, which is relentlessly focused on solving problems and innovating on behalf of the customer. The final side of the triangle is focused on budgeting and balancing the employee’s profit and loss. Instead of having a top-down approach to budgeting, budget conversations and transactions happen between Circles.

Zappos says this allows any employee or Circle to do whatever they want as long as they deliver on each side of the triangle.

Implementing a holocracy at your company may not be a possibility, but you’ll never know how making changes to your culture, structure or processes could improve your operation if you’re stuck working in your business rather than working on it. As you can learn in this article, to run a successful business and enable it to grow, owners must spend time thinking about the big picture rather than getting mired answering phone calls and responding to email.

It may take practice, but every minute spent on tasks that can be delegated is a minute you could’ve otherwise spent on planning and strategizing. This will not only allow you to build the best business possible, but also empower your employees to take more responsibility and be more accountable.


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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