Avoiding Accountability Derails High Performing Teams

We do not like being held accountable. It’s hard to always be on time for meetings. Sometimes, out of frustration, impatience, or selfishness, we say or do things that are hurtful or disruptive. And no one likes to be reminded that they’re late on a project deliverable.

Even worse, no one likes to hold their team members accountable. Most of us choose to fume quietly, bellyache to co-workers, and complain to family and friends. Often, we go to our boss with the problem — surely they’ll take charge and fix things.

Never go running to your team leader or boss

Team members must hold each other accountable for their compliance to the team’s rules of engagement, their work, and their behavior. “The key to meaningful accountability — and the main source of accountability on a team — is the team itself, not the boss,” said Arden Coaching president, Maren Perry. “If the boss is the first recourse or the only remedy then team members aren’t doing their jobs.”

Team members need to practice holding each other accountable to the standards of the team and calling each other out — honestly but respectfully — when that does not happen. “It’s challenging and it’s uncomfortable,” says Perry. “But that’s what we need to do.”

Arden Coaching employs The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ assessment tools and integrates them with a robust discovery process, team coaching, executive coaching, and offsite facilitation and development through its Leadership Academy. Developing a culture of accountability is a significant area of focus for Arden’s Leadership Academy. According to Patrick Lencioni (the creator of the Five Behaviors model), the behavior that teams consistently struggle with, and is hardest for teams to master, is accountability. It most frequently gets the lowest score on the assessment for a team.

Accountability is a vital ingredient for developing powerful team performance and harnessing the full potential of a team. It includes the team’s work product as well as team behaviors. Perry says, “Team members need to approach each other directly as issues arise, and yet still give each other the benefit of the doubt to explain themselves and approach them in the spirit of teamwork.”

“The team agreed that all project updates would be distributed to team members via our project management tool 48 hours before a meeting. You have been emailing your updates late in the day before our meetings. That makes it impossible for other team members to get their work completed for the meeting. Is there something we need to provide to help you get those to us sooner?”

“The team agreed to respect every person speaking, allowing them to complete their thought without interruption. In the last meeting you consistently interrupted me and others with your opinions, questions, and alternative ideas. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but your abrupt interjections ignore our team operating rules and hurt the team’s ability to develop creative solutions.”

“The team agreed to meet every Wednesday morning. You consistently schedule conflicts and miss meetings. That hurts the team’s productivity and penalizes others who clear their schedule to attend the Wednesday morning meeting. What do you need in order to make it to our regular meetings?”

It’s hard to get comfortable with accountability. However, avoiding accountability creates unhealthy tension within the team and ultimately derails team performance.

Developing a set of written rules of engagement and practicing accountability will result in a more robust, productive team. Typically rules of engagement include a mix of operating rules, work product rules, and rules that reinforce concepts of establishing trust, engaging in healthy conflict, and building team commitment.

(For more, read our five-part series about employing Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviors model to build high performance teams)

To learn more about developing your team’s performance, executive coaching, and the Arden Leadership Academy contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.