Essentials of Team Performance: Accountability

(This is the fourth in a series of five articles about building high-performance teams.)

If you’ve read our recent articles about vulnerability-based trust, healthy conflict, and commitment for teams, you have the beginnings of a truly outstanding team! What’s next pays huge dividends, but is perhaps the hardest thing for people to embrace: accountability.

Accountability harnesses the full potential of a team and paves the way for high-powered productivity.

True accountability is team-based

The key to meaningful accountability is that team members must hold each other accountable for their work and their behavior. “The primary source of accountability on a team is the team itself, not the boss,” said Arden Coaching president, Maren Perry. “If the boss is the only backstop, the team members aren’t doing their jobs.”

Of course, we all hate holding others accountable. Most of us choose to grumble quietly to ourselves, complain to co-workers, and whine to family and friends when they ask “how was your day?” Or, we run to our boss or team leader to complain. Anything seems better than addressing a concern or issue directly with a team member.

However, team members must practice holding each other accountable to the standards of the team and calling each other out when that does not happen. It’s challenging. It’s uncomfortable. But that’s what we need to do.

In an environment of trust, healthy conflict, and team commitment, this can be done respectfully and professionally, whether the issue is a team member not arriving to meetings on time, not getting their work deliverables accomplished, or behaving in a way that is disruptive to the team. Team members need to approach each other as issues arise, and in a positive, forthright manner:

“The team agreed to start meetings promptly at 9:00 a.m. You consistently arrive 10 minutes late. That hurts the team’s productivity and penalizes the others who arrive on time.”

“The team agreed that all project updates would be distributed to team members via email 24 hours before a meeting. You have been emailing your updates just prior to our meetings. That makes it impossible for me to get my work done on time.”

“The team agreed to respect every idea put forth by team members. Perhaps you were trying to be funny, but I felt your response to my idea last week was sarcastic and came across as a personal put-down.”

Accountability includes the team’s work product AND team behaviors

Calling someone out for delivering project updates past deadline is relatively easy compared to addressing behaviors. But it is critical for team members to hold each other accountable for their behaviors as well as their work product.

One of the best ways to set commonly understood standards for both work output and behavior is to create “rules of engagement” for the team. The rules of engagement is a written document, created by team members as soon as a team is formed. Rules should address questions such as:

  • Who runs meetings?
  • What is the schedule and structure for meetings?
  • How does information about decisions get shared?
  • What is acceptable behavior (late arrivals, early departures, eating, using laptops, etc.)?
  • What is the preferred method of communication (email, phone, text, Skype, etc.) and norms regrading the use of each?
  • Define acceptable timeframes for distributing deliverables and replying to questions.
  • What is the level of freedom to engage one another’s staffs?
  • Language used (e.g., is casual profanity OK?).
  • What do I do when someone breaks the Rules of Engagement?
  • How do we appropriately call each other out?
  • How will we settle arguments?

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. Importantly, the rules of engagement will vary for every team. What’s critical is that the rules for your team work to maximize your team performance.

It’s hard work! It’s difficult to make team members comfortable with accountability. With written rules of engagement and practice, consistency — and more productive teams — will come.

Arden Coaching is an authorized partner of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ program. Based on Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviors model, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ program is a proven set of assessment and team-building tools that has become the most widely used process for effective team development globally.

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