Many leaders find personal accountability comes naturally - often, it is a muscle they have strengthened significantly through years of practice. Being personally accountable is likely part of the skill set that propelled them to the point in their career where they became leaders. Being reliable, achieving predictable results, communicating expectations and results effectively, accepting responsibility for their actions, etc. are all things that got them where they are. But once you become a leader, personal accountability won’t cut it anymore. Now, you also have to cultivate an accountability culture in your team with accountability coaching.
In order to be successful in building an environment where accountability thrives and your team operates at peak performance to deliver desired results, we recommend following our Five C’s of Team Accountability framework. You have to start with a common purpose, clear expectations, effective communication, and set consequences. Along the way, you must collaborate and coach your team members to success. You can’t do this effectively if you only address performance in quarterly or annual reviews. We recommend a weekly team meeting rhythm coupled with one-on-one performance conversations as often as you need them. Don’t wait until a project fails or a person is totally overwhelmed to step in - build in a process for regular feedback and coaching that is delivered anytime your team member needs help, redirection, or praise. (Remember that feedback must be both positive and negative; catching people doing something right is a critical skill for effective leaders as leadership guru Ken Blanchard teaches.)
- Don’t skip the other steps in the framework. The best thing you can do is lay the groundwork for coaching by establishing common purpose, clarifying expectations and setting goals together, and communicating effectively with the person so that you ensure they’ve understood their role, their goals and the purpose behind those. This gives you something to refer back to in coaching conversations. For example, “When we started this project, we agreed your goal was X,” “I’ve pulled up your Job Scorecard so we can look together at the key responsibilities we agreed to for your role,” or "You've been working on improving X, and I see you've accomplished that goal!" Now you can have some more objective conversations based on where there may be misalignment rather than potentially blindsiding a person who may have thought they were doing great, and you have an opportunity to target your recognition around agreed upon goals and values.
- "Micro-knowledge" vs. Micro-manage. Errol Doebler used this phrase in a training I heard a few years ago, and it resonated. As a leader, you need to be kept in the loop about what’s going on with all of the projects and people in your team. You don’t need to do all the work or have all the answers, but you do need to have a way to keep a pulse on what’s happening. Collaboration and communication is key. Having a dashboard to measure progress on goals for each team member is a great way for leaders to keep up with what’s happening without taking over or looking over shoulders. It lets you stay informed without having to be copied on every email or sitting in every meeting. If you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t effectively coach because you can’t be specific in your feedback, but if you are too in the weeds, you aren’t empowering your team to be accountable themselves.
- Listen and be curious. When you engage in coaching a team member, your goal isn’t to solve the problem yourself - try to avoid giving directives. Rather, ask open-ended questions. When there’s a problem, give the person an opportunity to think about solutions and work out what the potential outcomes or challenges might be to each solution they generate. If the person comes to you with an issue or complaint, seek to understand first before jumping in to “fix it.” Challenge yourself to ask more questions than make statements. This is hard for some leaders who are used to having the answers. Approach the conversation from a mindset of curiosity, be non-judgmental, and try to stay open to the conversation going in a different direction than you thought.
If you can follow the tips above consistently, you will help your team members take ownership of their own results and build team accountability. You’ll be growing their skills as potential future leaders, too, and modeling good coaching skills for them to emulate in the future. Creating a culture of accountability where all of the team members accept responsibility for their actions is the first step in creating a high performance team and reaching your goals.
Sometimes, the regular, ongoing performance coaching conversation isn’t enough, and you need to have a difficult conversation with a team member who is underperforming. If it does come to that, you want to be sure you've done everything you can along the way to create the conditions for the person to be accountable and succeed. After all, that is your role as the team leader. If you need help, don't worry: we are here to help you get started. You can view our resources listed below or check out our accountability coaching programs and find the program that best suits your needs, and working with the experts ensures you'll have accountability in coaching.
Want more information on Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:
The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams leadership development program to improve team performance.
Take Our Team Accountability Assessment to see how your team stacks up.
Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.
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