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Supporting Team Accountability

Sometimes certain themes develop during client conversations, and recently a string of rhetorical questions and comments from weary exasperated managers sounded something like this:

Wouldn’t it be incredible if everyone just did what they said they were going to do?”

“Geez, I’m not asking them to go above and beyond, just straight ahead!”

“Imagine if people just did their own jobs how much simpler things would be?”

Sound familiar? Having managed our own fair share of teams over the years, we certainly can relate to this frustration. Groups of intelligent, dedicated, and well-meaning individuals can become so preoccupied doing each other’s jobs or worrying about things that are completely out of their scope and control, that the day-to-day stuff just falls off their desks.

We are all well acquainted with the ‘high-performance team’ movement that emerged to help us develop and maintain groups of ‘super-achievers’, because anything less was just not acceptable. Multi-day workshops and courses promising to take you and your team from where you are today, to off-the-chart productiveness and success! If you have the time and resources, high-performance team training may just be the answer. (Although, like most things in life, the disciplined follow-up will be the true determinant of success.)

In the meantime, we’d like to offer a few thoughts and tips on how to support and improve your team’s performance and accountability, by focusing on the basics that won’t cost you a lot of cash, nor add dozens of complex process flow-charts to your already jam packed days.

Team Conversations

When was the last time you had a group conversation about accountability? Our suggestion is to make it an agenda item- the only agenda item- for your next team meeting.

1. Set (or reset) the expectation that everyone is accountable for doing ‘their’ job. No more. No less. Begin by asking each team member to come prepared to give a brief description of their role within your organization and this group, as if you were just meeting one another for the first time. Asking people to revisit their roles and succinctly describe them to others is one of those activities that stretches our brains in surprising ways. It sounds simple, but realistically it may have been months or even years since members of your team have reviewed their job descriptions. And what we do not pay attention to, can easily morph into something completely different over time.

2. Ask the team what is getting in the way of everyone doing what they say they are going to do? Have this conversation. Is it time, resources, tools, capabilities, commitment, communications, understanding, alignment...? This is not a time for excuses. It is a time to deal with facts and reality, and it may have been a while since anyone has asked this question. We are creatures who tend to take on more and more responsibility; responsibility that often does not even belong to us. Our best intentions, however, can leave us with little hope of delivering. Below, are a few questions you can consider together as a team:

a. Are we asking people to do too much work that is not important and not aligned with our mission and ‘reason for being’?

b. Do we enable and support our teams to say ‘no’ when it is appropriate to do so?

c. Do people understand the connection (and there should be one) between what they need to do and what they say they are going to do?

3. Talk with your team about how you are going to assess each other’s performance and how you can hold each other accountable. You are in this together and relying on you, as the leader, to hold everyone to account is proven not to be the most effective approach. Peer-to-peer pressure is much more impactful and keeps everyone aware of their responsibilities, while reaffirming that it’s the group effort that will spell success.

a. Establish a team ‘oath’ that captures the commitment each of you make to one another about what it will look like when you are all performing well (most of the time), and what everyone is prepared to do to make that happen.

b. Pull that oath out periodically throughout the year and have a conversation about how everyone is doing. What is working, what is not, and why?

c. Work hard to create a safe environment in which to talk about your performance as a team and whether or not you are collectively doing what you say you are going to do.

d. Frame all of the above within the context of who your organization serves and your reason for being. And please do not stop at ‘increasing shareholder value’, for those of you that work in that world.

4. As leaders, we need to ask ourselves the question- ‘Are we walking our talk?’ One of our key responsibilities is modeling the behaviour we desire in our teams. We believe it is fair to say that many of us underestimate the attention people pay to what we say, and what we do (or don’t do). So, when you feel the frustration starting to build, the first thing to do is have a conversation with yourself and be honest about whether or not you are being accountable for your commitments. Once you have done that, it will be much easier to relate to your team’s challenges and support them in their accountability.

“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”



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