From a leadership perspective, there’s a real thirst for increasing accountability. Leaders have recently asked me various questions that linger over the concept of building team accountability:
“How do I build accountability in teams?”
“What else can I do to get people to do what we need them to do?”
“How can I hold my team accountable and still be seen as a good leader?”
Building team accountability requires that we understand a few dynamics because it’s more complicated than we might recognize.
First of all, teams - by definition - are made up of individuals. We can’t forget that. What’s needed is an understanding that society tends to truly value individual contribution while also (and separately) valuing team contribution. This seemingly interesting contradiction causes a great deal of confusion as to which should be valued the most. The secret alchemy, then, is to simply sort out the confusion to start building accountability in the workplace. Without accountability in a team, it is much more difficult - and stressful - to achieve your quarterly plan.
We can do this if we recognize where the individual plays a more vital role and where teamwork plays a more vital role. For instance, when there’s sudden chaos or an emergency of some sort, you want one or more individuals to step up and take the lead. When, on the other hand, you need to think innovatively to solve a problem or transform a process, teams are better.
With that said, though, the individuals who are placed on a team matter. In an HBR article, Gratton and Erickson (November 2007) noted that the “greater the proportion of experts a team had, the more likely it was to disintegrate into nonproductive conflict or stalemate.” These kinds of teams are not teams. They are groups of individuals coming together under the façade of working as a team. They’re still a group of individuals.
Yet, most individuals in team formation want to do what they’re supposed to do. The intent is usually good. The missing link is that what the team is supposed to do gets lost in translation. It’s assumed that they just know what to do, which is why our leadership development program is so popular as it provides actionable advice to develop accountable leaders and teams.
Hopefully, your company isn’t full of one crisis after another. If it is, then celebrating the individual might be your default solution. But for most companies, the continual journey is around improvements, innovation, and problem-solving. With that said, we can see the relevance with accountability in a team environment.
The missing link is that this 'team' of individuals needs to know what they, as a collective whole, are accountable for accomplishing. Personal accountability doesn't always translate to a accountability in a team. As a leader, it’s your job to provide them with a definition of what it is you’re holding them accountable for doing.
To do this, consider using The Five C’s for Building Team Accountability:
1. Common Purpose: Set the stage for any team initiative by talking about the ‘why.’ Why are they here? Why are they working on this project, or this special task force? Connect what you need the team to do with why you need them to spend valuable time doing it. What’s the point? Why does it matter? We always tend to tell a team of people what to do; many leaders are good at that. As a result, the ‘why’ gets completely ignored.
2. Clear Expectations: What is it that you ultimately need the team to do? These are the accountability questions leaders to set clear expectations for the team.
- Clarify: Are you looking for one specific viable solution to a company-wide problem, or are you asking the team to jointly agree on three potential solutions to present? Do you expect them to define a roadmap for the one (or three) solutions, or not? Do you need them to present a list of pros and cons with their solution(s)? How do you want to be kept informed along the way? An email every Friday afternoon? A white paper three times a week (Side note: Please don’t do this last one), or what? Whether it’s an intact workplace team or a task force, use the Job Scorecard as a tool to help prompt your thinking as to what you need the team to be responsible for doing.
- Accountable Leadership: If it’s a special task force (vs. an intact workplace team), who’s the person who’s driving the train. In other words, who’s ultimately accountable for making sure that what the team needs to do gets done? It doesn’t mean this person is the only one doing the work; it simply means s/he is on top of it. The same would hold true for a new initiative for an intact team. You, the leader, shouldn’t think you have all the power to check how things are going. Instead, who on the team can take the leadership role to make sure the transition gets moving, and keeps moving? Who’s accountable for driving the train?
- In your mind, what does success look like? Setting up a metric for what success looks like clarifies the degree to which people are supposed to do something. Otherwise, you can get a checkmark that says, “We did it.” But, was it done relative to the expectations you had in your head? Define (clearly) what success looks like. (Side note: Try to avoid having a due date as a success metric. Any of us can produce a ton of mediocre work by a deadline.)
3. Communicate & Align: As time passes, as part of their leadership development, it’s a leader’s job to keep a team focused and aligned so that everyone’s involved and moving in the same direction. How are they going to do what you need them to do? What resources might they consider using? Keep everyone focused. Over and over, communicate with them, ask questions, remind them why what they’re doing is important, etc. Your job as a leader is to keep them all rowing in the same direction, especially when rolling out annual plans and your quarterly plans. Communication and alignment is what provides life to any team because it’s what fosters longer-term sustainability.
4. Collaborate and Coach: Set the stage for collaboration all along the way so that adjustments can be made in real time. Monitor progress and coach your people. Don’t tell them what to do. Coach. Listen to them (80%) and talk with them (20%). Nurture them to converse with each other. Be a resource for them. What roadblocks need to be removed, and how can you help remove them? If what you’ve tasked your people to do is important, then it deserves your support. Collaboration is at the heart of a great weekly team meeting.
5. Consequences: Most people see consequences and they immediately think of a negative connotation. We overlook that consequences can also be positive. Make results and consequences visible. Talk to your team strategically vs tactically, which is usually done through questions vs. statements. Secondly, for some reason, leaders are the first to let people know when something’s not right or if it’s gone awry. But when things go well, it’s almost as if the success is glossed over. The consequence of that, though, is that you help create a remedial culture. People are only noticed and given attention at weekly team meetings when things don’t go as expected. So work to give equal (or more) weight to what’s gone right. Celebrate!
Based on your experience as a leader of an accountable team:
- Which of the Five C’s do you find the hardest to do?
- Which is the most important, and why?
- Take our team accountability assessment to see where you stand, and how you can improve.
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.
Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.
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