The phrase "Chain of Command" has been in the news a lot lately, mostly related to war. But a few days ago, I watched an interview with the former CEO of Shell Oil, in which he used "Chain of Command" to discuss the breakdown of communication in the BP Gulf Coast oil well blow-out.
It's the first time I've heard "Chain of Command" -- including the implied militaristic respect for hierarchy and obedience -- described in corporate terms. The interview suggested that if BP's employees had followed a "Chain of Command" model, the blow-out disaster could have been prevented.
Professional service firms don't operate like armies. Most are actively trying to encourage more, not less, distribution of leadership. Of course, with patchwork-quilt organizational structures featuring heads of regions, lines-of-business, industries, and more, occasional disasters do occur (remember Arthur Andersen and Enron; Modern Continental Construction Company and Boston's Big Dig).
But while I have not heard calls for professional service firms to adopt a "chain of command" model, I do think the notion of "shared accountability" offers enormous benefits to a professional firm. From avoiding disasters to participating in the firm's marketplace growth, we can make a compelling argument that shared accountability makes sense.
Does your firm believe in the idea of shared accountability? What does it look like? How is it being led? Implemented?