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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Creating Accountability Behaviors In Teams

When you mention accountability in teams, unfortunately many people think of punishment. It’s probably the tone people use when they say they are going to hold you accountable. It sounds like they are saying if you don’t do what you are supposed to do, I’m going to call you out and punish you.

As I have spoken and written many times, the ideal company culture for teams is self-accountability where each team member holds themselves accountable for duties and results. While certainly it takes some good bonding and coaching to get a team to that particular place of professional development, you also need a place to start, which is the subject of my writing today.

One stage that is desirable is for team members to hold each other accountable but that also comes with a unique set of challenges. Some of those include:

  1. People like to avoid the negative with friends and co-workers. People don’t like dealing with bad news unless they absolutely have to do it. You must remind them that balancing feedback with positive news is also part of the whole equation. Feedback and accountability shouldn’t be all bad or all good but balanced. Don’t just focus on what needs work but also on what is working well.

  2. Unless you participated in some athletics, you may have delegated bad news, complaints or wrongs up to your parents or teachers. If so, it probably makes sense to you to abdicate that to your boss now. You may not have much experience in giving feedback to others and explaining how their performance affected you and the team either positively or negatively. You may not have had much practice and need more to feel better about doing it. This takes development for you.

  3. People don’t like to hurt friends and co-workers feelings. The message ties too closely to the relationship in many folks’ minds. We often worry that the feedback (particularly if it’s improvement oriented) will harm or kill the relationship. We have a fear that the recipient will take it personally, they will be hurt by the message and will become angry and possibly, vengeful. So it seems easier to keep quiet and think that it’s someone else’s job.

So, how are you going to get this feedback process started with your team knowing these obstacles exist?

It may be helpful to call them together and have a frank discussion with the team around feedback. Ask them how they feel about giving feedback and what, in particular makes it difficult for them. You might also ask why they think it might be worth pushing past that initial difficulty and to start holding one another accountable. One leader I know was very successful in simply letting all his team members know that strife among the team was a fireable offense. Any team member who was the instigator of the strife environment would be put on notice with a warning or would be terminated. You, as the leader, have to establish the ground rules for what you will accept and what you won’t in the work environment. This leader found it helped his environment with feedback because people would not hold it against anyone or be nasty if another team member held them accountable.

When you mention accountability in teams, unfortunately many people think of punishment. But accountability can be framed as part of a continual improvement process.

You can also frame accountability with your team as part of continual improvement process and a relationship improvement technique. When you see the wrong behaviors and do nothing, you are setting yourself and the team up for failure and frustration. Many times, people will not change on their own; in fact, they may not even realize they need to change. Behavior that is not challenged will not change and behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. The key is to foster an environment where accountability becomes part of a shared experience of higher quality and elite performance.

This will require you to enlist your entire team in applauding the good behavior of others and also the behavior that needs to be challenged. If you can create an environment of mutual and ongoing accountability, your team will improve over time, resulting in better outcomes and even better and deeper relationships.

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