Boundaries and Accountabilities

Erin Randall-Boundaries and Accountabilities

Erin Randall elaborates on The Funky Monkey. Listening to Erin, the key considerations are: “Whose responsibility is it? How can I hold you accountable? What can you hold me accountable for’’? These questions can bring about alignment in our organisations in our teams and in our personal lives.

Why do boundaries matter?

Boundaries are essential to build and sustain healthy relationships, to make good neighbours and to act as anchor points for conversations and clarity. Erin is passionate about happy people doing happy works and brings a humble, playful and intelligent outlook to explore how the environments we create and the systems we design become places of impact and realisation of potential. Of particular importance is the difference between responsible and accountable. These differentiations bring clarity to how we want to work together, who is responsible for what and how we sit with discomfort in the system while finding a way through.

What does an accountability system mean for you?

What are the principles the system hold that enhances awareness? What boundaries can lead you through to done?  How do we want to be with each other?   What you can count on me for.    In our reflective practices silence plays a part in providing space for reflection and responsiveness.  

Erin highlights the significance of the following practices:

1.Connecting with courage

2.Understanding how you work best 

3.Standing and aligning with the values that drive, motivate and support you

4Embracing caring and empathetic approaches 

5.Role modelling leadership and having a healthy relationship with power

6.Inviting curiousity – giving people what they want, while holding them to account.

What is the nature of the conversations you are having?

How are boundaries serving the system?

How are you keeping your side of the street clear?

How are you showing up for the party?

We need grace in holding the space we are creating.  Trust is the glue along the way.  Erin teaches us to trust the good of the systems of the world.  Sometimes that is simply holding the space for good conversations, sometimes it is being forgiving when we get it wrong and often it is about staying with our intention, measuring our impact and being conscious of the behaviours that serve us and support us in fulfilling our purpose.  

Thank your Erin for being such an awesome and insightful teacher. 



00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host, Tesse Akpeki and co-host me Paula Okonneh. Where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This continues to be a journey of discovery, as we learn that leadership is personal and professional. And so we hope you our listeners, will walk with us in this adventure. Our theme today is “Funky Monkey, boundaries, responsibilities, and accountabilities”. And our guest is Erin Randall. Erin Randall is a veteran organizational agile and coactive coach. Serving organizations through sustainable agile change, leadership alignment and supporting high performing teams. For over 10 years, she has partnered with organizations, leaders, executive teams, and boards, and other coaches from around the world. Including companies such as “Roach”, “Texas A&M University”, “IBM”, “Charles Schwab”, and many more. She is all about happy people doing great work. Erin splits her time between Austin, Texas and rural Montana. And she can often be found in bookstores or on hiking trails with her dogs, or at one of the Agile coaching circles, where she’s the co-founder. And the best way to connect with her is on LinkedIn, or you can join her for Magnesium 2023. Wow. Erin, you are remarkable. Welcome to “TesseTalks”
00:01:46 Erin: I’m laughing as we were going through that intro. I’m like, “oh wow, Erin, you’ve gotta work on that”. Work on connecting more with people. That just sounds like a list of like titles and credentials and things that are like, oh, heavy, but.
00:02:01 Tesse: You’re being extremely modest. You know Paula actually didn’t mention the wonderful distinctions and expertise places where you hang out. We are in awe of you very much Erin. I’m so excited to have you on the show. I was so pleased that one of my highlights of the pandemic was actually meeting you on the “Agile Austin platform”. And hearing your wonderful, warm and soothing voice. So welcome .
00:02:32 Erin: Thank you. Thank you so much. That means an incredible amount to me. “Agile Austin” was one of the places where I really first began to practice my craft. But really began to deepen my knowledge and my skillset and the base there. And so to hear that that place is of service, not just to people in Austin, but to people around the world. That’s incredibly meaningful to me. So I’m thrilled that we were able to be of service to people during a pandemic, but that continues to be of service to people too.
00:03:03 Tesse: Oh you are. Yeah, thank you so much cause it’s such an inclusive environment, such an inclusive space. And you know, the other thing that happened, was during the summer this year I read a wonderful blog, which you wrote about boundaries, responsibilities and accountabilities. And I just have my first kind of curiosity, which is, why do boundaries matter? What do they achieve?
00:03:28 Erin: Boundaries are incredibly important from so many perspectives. But really they’re there to protect us, help keep us safe. All right, so Brene Brown does a lot of work around boundaries. But really they’re our own responsibility and they’re our own safekeeping of self. You know, you’re referring to, you know we called this the funky monkey at the very beginning of this podcast. And I have to laugh, but that is honestly one of the first articles I often share with organizations or teams with whom I work. Because it’s starting to give us that language around, is that your monkey? What about that monkey is important? Or I know that I’m having an impact when someone says, “don’t pick up that monkey”. “Don’t pick up that monkey”. And you can hear people then begin to test, you know, where is the boundary on that? What belongs to me? What doesn’t? So what you see up there on the blog, and I really do try to write every month. You know, I’ll have a different topic and then like, some months I’m more successful than others. Some months, it depends on if I’m traveling, or if I was experimenting with frameworks, or if I have a lot of talks that I’m giving publicly. I may not get a blog post written, but you see me work things out on a blog and to interact with people and see what’s there, you can kind of see how I’m pulling on different thought threads all the way through. And I find it incredibly gratifying that that blog post has mattered to people. Because it is pulling on three distinct threads around boundaries, around responsibility. And ultimately then leading into what can you count on me for, or accountability. And to me, all of these tie together. So I’m glad that you see that too. Thank you.
00:05:25 Tesse: Yeah. Pleasure. Yeah.
00:05:28 Paula: Boundaries. Funky monkeys. Interesting.
00:05:33 Erin: Funky monkey. No it’s really, it’s an old Harvard Business Review article by William Ankin. And it is, I guess one of the most popular reprints they have, it’s either the first or the second one. And I’m always surprised that more people haven’t heard of it. So I know that the language is a little bit older now, and it’s a little bit more archaic, and norms and gender norms and who you find in the workplace, it’s not just, you know, men. But the principles, you know, what it espoused so long ago still holds. And by thinking, you know, where is that monkey? What is it doing? Is it jumping from one person to the next? And how does it tie into boundaries? Where it’s like, “oh, is that mine? Is it not mine? Yeah, it’s one of the more powerful pieces that I can often start with organizations just to help awareness around that too.
00:06:25 Paula: Great. So, coming back to boundaries, I mean, how can these boundaries be put in place in these organizations? Can you expound on that?
00:06:35 Erin: Yeah. So how can boundaries be put in place in organizations? So sometimes I think about this in terms of rigid, porous, and healthy boundaries, and just awareness around what those look like. Okay. And you might have you know, a graph or something and where people recognize, you know, where are they in this? And then I kind of tease myself too, because sometimes I dance around in all three of those categories and the like. But awareness, bringing that forward, you know, where are those boundaries? And then we think about systemic roles within systems and how do roles and boundaries interact and how do they work together? Okay. So when I start thinking about boundaries from that perspective, how are systemic roles playing out in those systems? Because systems depend on roles for organization and execution of functions. And once organizations start seeing that and seeing where they are in boundaries, and also how to have conversations around, what am I picking up that is not mine? And by doing that, am I not getting through to done other things that I need to? All right. Have you ever heard an organization say something like, stay in your swim lane? Sometimes organizations, they have work coming in, they can’t get anything done because they’re so bogged down with other people’s or other organization’s monkeys. Okay. How do we say, no, that’s not mine? Okay. How do I teach you, you know, this is where my boundary is or this is where that door on that is? But let me empower you with some of those skills so that you are able to handle that so that I can focus on this. And so that’s where I started pulling on responsibility, boundaries. Where’s the monkey on that? And it makes a lot of sense in my thinking. It does. You kind of can’t have one without the other.
00:08:35 Tesse: Absolutely. I am so intrigued by this, cause when I read your piece, things became clear to me about how in order to build trust, in order to sustain trust, there has to be good, healthy boundary management. But the other thing that came to my mind was how the boundary management also links in with accountability as well. And I am curious, Erin, for you to share your take on accountabilities. Because I think this is something that is much misunderstood and I do a lot of work with governing bodies, and I think that the whole thing around governance and management and the messy stuff is actually down to people not really understanding the essence of accountability. So I’m curious.
00:09:23 Erin: So you’ve hit on one of my favorite things, to talk about, and I don’t think we brought this up earlier, but this is really around alliances within systems. Okay. How many of you set alliances, you might think of them as working agreements? How do you agree to work together? All right, so this is very much an organizational relationship and system coaching tool. So what would help this system to thrive? How do we wanna be when things are difficult? Okay. And it’s not just, you know, the zombie agreements. Oh, we want to be authentic, we want to be honest, you know, we want to be nice to one another. Okay, great. I kind of think of those as zombie agreements where it’s like, okay, we all want those things. Okay. Well, if we’re honest with one another, what’s that going to be like? You know, talk about that. And really people to describe it, it’s going to be kind of pulling on those different things. How do we know that we have that? People are like, oh, well, I guess if we’re honest with one another. Sometimes it might feel uncomfortable because you might be giving me feedback that I wasn’t necessarily thinking was going to be here. And doing the same thing around how do we want to be when things are difficult? Okay. And again, what’s that going to be like? And how do you know that you have it? But that brings in to me, which is one of the most important aspects of alliances, which is accountability. Okay, what can you count on me for? And when I have organizations or teams or even partnerships do this work together, I ask them to use that language, I can be counted on for. Because it’s kind of going back to the monkey part where it’s like I’m specifically going to be counted on for this but not for this. And that language, that modeling of that, it kind of just starts to help wear that groove a little bit into your thinking and how you want to speak and talk about accountability. I’m curious, so when we bring up accountability, what comes up in you?
00:11:22 Tesse: Wow, that is such a rich question, honestly. You know, as I said, because I work a lot with governing bodies, it’s what can you ultimately hold me responsible for? At one level, but at another level, it’s what I would expect of you. And what comes to me is that thing about knowing that I need to let go so that you take your stuff. So the monkey is yours.
00:11:49 Erin: Right.
00:11:49 Tesse: Yeah. But for me, I need to keep the higher picture. I need to whatever. Because what I find when I work with governing bodies is, that they say the board is ultimately responsible for, but actually that word of ultimate responsibility should be accountability. And I think that they confuse the whole thing. They just, everything gets very, very messy. Because in some respects, they are responsible, in other respects, they’re accountable. And the actual framing of what is accountable and what is responsible just get all mixed up.
00:12:23 Erin: But I love that you’re being really clear about the differences between responsible and accountable. And I think semantics matter, and we lose this all too often. And I think,Paula, you were just asking Tesse, how do we change? And Tasse, I hope you push on those boards around that. Ask them to have that conversation. What is the difference between responsible and accountable, and see what comes up there in that system. Okay. And then, okay , what are you going to do? Because it sounds to me like what you are doing is setting that alliance with that system. And I swear y’all this summer I have used that question more times with systems than I can count. What is your alliance like? And I would get like these big, you know, blinking owls. They’d be like, Alliance? What do you mean an alliance? And I’m like, okay let’s back up a little bit. How did you create an alliance on how you wanted to work together? And they’re like, “oh, well we don’t do that, we don’t need to do that”. I’m like,”oh, well what’s happening now”? And they’re like, “well, we kind of run into some hiccups here and we’ve run off course and we’re not where we should be”. And I’m like, “oh, so if we had an alliance in place for this group, what would be different”? And they’re like, oh we could refer back to it, we could ask the question, how are we? And I’m not including me in that, but how are we as that group, as that board, how are we living up to that agreement? How are we living our values? How are we living our alliance? And that to me, I love that you’re really pulling on that difference between responsible and accountable. You know, I’m responsible for this, but you can count on me for this.
00:14:10 Tesse: I love that you are clear, and I think I know that when I read your article, I began to tweak the way that I was working with the groups I worked with.
00:14:21 Erin: Wait, can you stop for a second? Cause I need to happy dance just a little bit. It’s like I was tweaking the way over cause I’m like it was working.
00:14:29 Tesse: No, but the thing is that I found that they didn’t really like to have that conversation. But what I started to do, which was really interesting, was to use more of a coaching approach. And when I saw that they didn’t want to have the conversation with kindness, I would just kind of a keep asking the same question and then stop and let silence.
00:14:54 Erin: Oh, well done, Tesse.
00:14:57 Tesse: What is that?
00:14:58 Erin: You know, to reflect back to the systems, you know, I’m sensing it’s uncomfortable in here right now. What’s there?
00:15:08 Tesse: Yes, they didn’t really like it. But what surprised me, Erin, and you’d be pleased at this. What surprised me that when they started talking with that honesty, that discomfort was articulated. That is what happened.
00:15:25 Erin: That, okay, my heart just grew three sizes right there just listening to that, because that’s incredibly powerful, Tesse. Okay, incredibly powerful. Yeah, we do feel awkward, we do feel uncomfortable around this. Okay, how do we find our way through? Well, we have that conversation we discern what it means for this board. You know, how do they want to define responsible? How do they want to define accountable? What does that mean for them? And it’s at their choice then, because they are at choice. When you can help systems or organizations or teams, or even people always be at choice, that drives it home, that drives it home in a big way because they can step up into it rather than it being inflicted on them.
00:16:14 Tesse: Yeah. Paula, what’s coming out to your mind? Because you’re kind of like quiet.
00:16:20 Paula: I’m listening and I’m learning, and I’m thinking about the power of silence and what that does to us as human beings. Many times it makes us introspective, you know, we go into ourselves.
00:16:33 Erin: The silence provides space for reflection, and for us as individuals to do some of the heavy lifting that we need to. But you know it also stops that somatic grab and rather than just, you know blind reaction to an issue, silence gives us space to respond. To really take that moment, you know, that deep breath to think it through. I wish I could find a way to help more people become comfortable with silence in systems and organizations, because there’s an incredible power to it.
00:17:13 Tesse: You know there’s something in the way you work that brings that confidence, Erin. You know, today I was having a conversation with a woman who has done such amazing work internationally around board dynamics and team dynamics. And we had the conversation, but for me it was really about me, because we were talking about a design of the program and I was a bit anxious because I’d never worked with them before. I didn’t know. But for me, falling on from your work and the work of other colleagues, it was about designing something that builds in this space, which is less, is more. And I had been given an agenda, which seemed to be so packed and so crowded. And because I’d not worked with them before, I was very anxious about saying, actually, there’s too much in here. But I thought I’m going to connect with my courage. And connected with my courage was to say, actually this is a wonderful idea that had been given to me. And I think this is so rich and it’s so wonderful. However, for me, given the way I work, I would like to have more space to be facilitative. And I thought, I found my courage to say that, and then I held my breath. And she looked at me cause it was a virtual call and smiled and she said, I love what you’re saying.
00:18:31 Erin: Yeah, I do on so many levels. You know, because you understanding how you work best. And in all fairness, Tesse, I’m terrible. I know that I tend to put too much in and I always need to strip things out, but I want to think through too much there. But it also, I’m hearing that you’re very much in tune with your values. Not only in governance, but with how you work best. And that you felt you had boundaries in place to say, “hey, this does work for me, but this part doesn’t”. And you felt okay to step up and take, you were responsible for yourself.
00:19:14 Tesse: But I was scared at the same time. And Paula knows, you know the struggle, Paula, that I have. Because when I’m working with you, sometimes you are the one saying you can do this. You’re the one saying to me, Tesse you can do this. And I’m not having the confidence that I can. Cause I want people to like me, and I think if I’m like that, they might not like me.
00:19:35 Erin: Okay Tesse, I think it might be a little bit impossible to not like you. So yay imposter syndrome for kicking on you. Oh no one’s going to like you after you stand up for your own values. But how are you seeing now? I mean, because the thing is, I love that you stood up for your values and how you work. I like you more. Because to me then you are honest and authentic, and you know your monkeys and you don’t.
00:20:01 Tesse: But this work thing, what you do and what Brene Brown does that actually are helping me to say, “what is the intention and what is the impact”? And it’s that that is given the courage. And when you have supportive mechanism that are in me. I have my alliance with my lovely co-host and friend and colleague, Paula. Paula, you have this amazing ability to be boundaried and yet compassionate at the same time. You care and you connect. And that actually helps me to step into that place of I can do this cause I can do and I can be. And if I get it wrong, that’s okay and to have that conversation. But it’s those kind of healthy relationships, those kind of role modeling that Paula, bless your heart, but you do it, that actually grows me.
00:20:54 Erin: So Paula, it sounds like you’re doing an excellent job. Well done you. And I only hope that we give you what you need too, so that you feel you can really step into what you want.
00:21:05 Paula: The reason I’m keeping quiet is because every day my mission is to learn something. And so I’m listening to the two of you, and of course I’m learning and gleaning from what you’re saying. And the application of, because I’m just thinking about, you know, we started off talking about boundaries, and thinking how do we dig deeper into that boundary management? That’s something that I struggle with. I got that question today.
00:21:29 Erin: That’s a really big question. How do we dig more deeply into boundary management? I guess first I’d wanna know how are boundaries serving the individual? How are they serving the system? What do they wish was different? Or what’s uncomfortable? Yeah, I’m thinking about boundary management, where is it healthy? Where is the tissue good? Where is their good blood flow? Are we getting enough oxygen in? Are we keeping enough of the bad stuff out? What’s the conversation? So I think boundary management is really just that. It’s that conversation where either the system is having that conversation as a whole, and how do we put our arms around that? And see that’s where I want to bring it back to the system side then too. What is that third entity of the system? What is the voice of the system saying? I need more of this, I need less of this, or I’m not seeing enough of this. And boundary management isn’t just my responsibility or your responsibility, it is our responsibility and checking back in on it, reflecting. You know us coaches, we’re always checking back into that system, reading that emotional field there. Because you can sense when a system seems too quiet. It’s like, are you all really thinking and reflecting? Or are you feeling awkward and like you wish that you were elsewhere? And people will tell you like, “oh, I’m like, oh, what are the boundaries saying here”? Maybe sometimes ask them, ask the boundaries. Boundary management though. I had an old friend and coworker, she used to refer to this as keeping your side of the street clean.
00:23:13 Paula: That’s very visual.
00:23:14 Erin: And I love that phrase, you know, how are you keeping your side of the street clean? Okay. And so that means sometimes you’re a good neighbor and you’re going out, you’re sweeping up your leaves and you’ve gotten your, you know, trees trimmed and all of this kind. And I still use that phrase. But then another coach friend of mine, she’s like, “Erin, we don’t just need you to keep your side of the street clean, we need you to also come to the block party”. And I’m like, yeah, you do. And I’m like, you need me not just come to the block party, but I need to bring, you know, the awkward jello salad or whatever it is. You know, because it’s showing up wholeheartedly and that I think is my responsibility as a human. You know, I’m not just responsible for the boundary, the maintenance of it, the care and the feeding of that monkey. How do I wanna come to the block party? I learned more from other coaches than I ever do. You know, they’re a far greater service to me than I could ever be to them. Cause I learned more from how they think, how they interact, what they see in the system, what questions they hear.
00:24:24 Paula: That was an interesting but pertinent question you know. Apart from keeping your side of the street clean, you need to show up at the block party.
00:24:33 Erin: Yes. Because that’s the thing is I think as humans, how do we keep our side of the street clean? Okay. Yes, that’s part of, you know, Robert Frost, good fences make good neighbors. True. Okay. But you know what else makes a good neighbor? The one who shows up with a casserole when you’re sick. Okay. Or the one that will shovel your drive. Or the ones that say, hey, you know what? I got the kids tonight, you know, I knew that you had that thing going on. You know, yes, that’s sometimes you want to be mindful of where monkeys are, okay. But also, what is your responsibility? How do you want to be accountable to your system.
00:25:16 Tesse: I am blown away by this, what you’re saying, Erin. Last week I had the pleasure of going to a session that was run by David Cooperrider. He was talking about systems and the collective system and institutions. And he was talking about inside and outside, and he actually came up with something very, very powerful. I mean, he’s been working on this stuff about working on the outside and bringing the outside in as well as doing housekeeping. And I just so love this because that kind of work on the outside too speak to the element of turning up at that brunch. Having the drink there, being at the bedside of sick people, hearing the cries of pain and not neglecting it. And hearing what you’re saying I’m getting emotional, because sometimes the system has got so bureaucratic and so rigid that it actually is not doing that fluidity of the humanity and the connection and that thing about, yeah. Yes, we keep our side of the road, but being in that place where we are connecting with humanity in others and in wicked problems that just need some kind of healing and restoration.
00:26:34 Erin: Joanne Stone is up in Canada, and she’s doing a lot of work around wicked problems and you know, using agile and planetary ecology and everything. And down in Australia they’re doing a lot of work around those wicked problems. And the thing is, I hope at some level we’re all doing wicked problem work. Sometimes I need to know that one thing is my monkey to pick up, what parts aren’t. Where can I have impact? You know, how do I want to focus my energies? But I think it’s awareness of our systems as a whole, and how do we want to be with that? You know, I’ll be honest, I still struggle with all of these topics and how do I find my way through and how do I want to be with them? And I don’t have a finite answer on any of this, but it’s like Paula was saying, you know, I want to learn something every day. You know, I hope that I’m better today than I was yesterday, and I hope that tomorrow is an improvement above that again. We all find our way home.
00:27:39 Paula: Tesse any more questions before we wrap up?
00:27:44 Tesse: I’m going to hand over it to you, because Erin has touched my heart in such a way with what she’s saying, what you’re saying, Erin. And I think it’s kind of like being, you know, kind of doing today and being today so that there’s a better, more heal tomorrow. And I’m just so connecting with that.
00:28:03 Erin: I see it in your face right there. I see it there. But the thing is you are living and practicing these values and skills and tools already. I mean, I think of your work with a governance board, even asking these questions that shifts a system. Modeling, they’re with them, that’s a systemic shift. And helping them see that. Okay, so you are modeling that change too. You’re grappling with wicked problems, whether you know it or not.
00:28:33 Tesse: And it’s having the courage because what actually happened, and I speak to Paula about this, let me check in with each other, that these, some of these organizations are having such courage to go to places where they wouldn’t go. And some of that courage is beacause in love and compassion I offer them this space to interrogate some of the systems, to interrogate some of the frameworks. And I’m blown by that, that they just say, Tessr, thank you for holding this space for us to do this. And I’m blown by it, totally blown by it.
00:29:09 Erin: There’s so much grace in holding the space to make it safe for a system. Where is it responsible? Where is it accountable? What is it doing? What isn’t it doing? To be able to ask itself those questions, that is helping it to know what to pick up and what to not. Where is boundaries, where it needs more space, where it needs to breathe. And that’s you really giving that system some grace. I have to trust in the good of systems of the world that they’re trying. They know what they need, they know what is right and how can we get out of their way. And sometimes it’s just simply holding that space to not let the monkey in or the gorilla.
00:30:02 Tesse: Love it.
00:30:03 Paula: And on that note, I have to say thank you, Erin.
00:30:07 Tesse: Thank you.
00:30:09 Erin: Thank you.
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