The more collaboration the less individual attribution and accountability principle


Academic references to outcomes theory

The principle

Requiring units or parties to collaborate will reduce the possibility of attributing high-level outcomes to particular units or parties and will reduce the level at which individual accountability can be struck. 

The problem

Collaboration is essential for achieving many tasks. However increasing collaboration decreases the ability to determine who was responsible for the achievement of high-level outcomes (attribution). This means it becomes harder to hold individual units or parities to account for high-level outcomes. Because of this trade-off it is incoherent for control agencies, management or funders to demand both increased collaboration and increased accountability of individual units or parties at the same time.

As a corollary, putting too much emphasis on attribution and accountability of individual units or parties can lead to the unintended consequence of reducing collaboration between them; their withholding information from each other; them attempting to be 'seen' as the unit or party which achieved an outcome; and diversion of resources into generating positive PR spin about individual unit or parties achievements rather than the focus being on collaborating to achieve shared outcomes.  

The solution

One tactic in the face of this trade-off is to move the accountability focus of individual units or parties lower down the outcomes model (the model of all of the steps leading to high-level outcomes). For instance, individual units or parties could be held to account for their willingness to collaborate (as measured by other parties). Incentives could then be provided for the group as a whole if it achieves the shared outcome rather than just focus them on individual units or parties.


This principle is in operation in all situations where collaboration and group work are required. It occurs in regard to individual performance measurement in HR in situations where people work in as teams. It also occurs between government agencies that are working on similar outcomes.