Accountability has become another catchword – so overused and with so many different interpretations that it has lost much of its meaning. According to Patrick Lencioni, author of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “When it comes to teamwork, accountability means the willingness of members to remind one another when they’re not living up to performance standards and results.” This includes feedback on individual behavior, such as the extent to which members act with integrity, interact in respectful ways, and are aligned with the team’s values.
Teams that Avoid Accountability
The usual source of dysfunction in this area is the unwillingness of team members to accept the discomfort that goes with “calling out” a peer on his or her behavior. Team trust and tolerance with interpersonal conflict has a lot to do with a team’s readiness and willingness to engage in accountability-based behaviors such as giving and receiving feedback. Regardless, teams that have trouble holding difficult conversations will also likely avoid holding one another accountable. Teams that avoid accountability . . .
- Encourage mediocrity – they miss deadlines and key deliverables
- Experience broken agreements
- Allow misunderstandings to fester thereby creating resentment, frustration and blame.
- Place an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of feedback and discipline
As uncomfortable and difficult as it can be, accountability helps a team and an organization avoid far more costly and difficult situations later. Perhaps the most important challenge of building a high-performing cohesive team is overcoming the reluctance of individuals to give one another critical feedback. One way to overcome this reluctance is to help people realize that failing to provide peers with constructive feedback means that they are letting them down personally. By holding back, we hurt not only the team, but also our teammates. Sometimes this is the only compelling argument that can convince a well-meaning and caring teammate to step into the discomfort of telling someone what he or she needs to hear.
Teams that Embrace Feedback and Accountability
In addition to team trust and comfort with conflict, a third important ingredient to establishing accountability-based behaviors within a team is commitment. When everyone is committed to the team’s priorities and to a clear plan of action, they will be more willing to hold one another accountable. Teams that embrace accountability . . .
- Ensure that poor performers feel pressure to improve
- Identify potential problems and obstacles quickly
- Establish respect among members who are held to the same high standards
- Avoid excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action
The key to making accountability part of a team’s culture is the willingness of the team leader to model the behavior by stepping into the middle of a difficult situation and to remind individual team members of their responsibilities, in terms of both behavior and results.
*Based on Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. “The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team” is a trademark of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Tom Sullivan is an authorized partner of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.