Remote Teams Need Accountability Too

Julian’s team was struggling to get its work done. A few months before the coronavirus required his company to work-from-home, the team was chartered and started strong. Team members determined their roles, defined their expectations of each other, and began moving forward productively on their assignments. People on the team also grew to genuinely like each other — something not every team enjoys!

Now, months after work-from-home was put in place, the team was having issues. Some team members were arriving late to virtual meetings, excusing themselves early, or missing meetings altogether. Patience for distracting domestic disorder, barking dogs, and ignorance about how to use online tools was wearing thin. The team wasn’t accomplishing the work needed and they were beginning to miss individual and group deadlines.

Everyone on the team saw this happening and was becoming increasingly frustrated. 

The problem was, no one was saying anything about it. At the next regular check-in with his executive coach, Julian brought up the team’s struggles. 

Julian’s coach observed, “First, when the team moved to virtual work, it did not reset its expectations or rules of engagement. That’s critical, especially when circumstances and the work context have changed so dramatically.”

“Of course,” said Julian. “We chartered the team in a conventional office environment. We agreed on how we would get the work done, how we would behave toward each other, and even how we would manage our disagreements. We did all the right things to move forward, and it was succeeding. But working from home, well, now it’s all different.”

The coach continued, “Let’s also revisit Patrick Lencioni’s fourth dysfunction of teams — the avoidance of accountability. The team needs to get its accountability to each other back on track.” Lencioni’s Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team served as the underlying operational blueprint for the team.

Company employees had been told to deal with the uncertainty and chaos of work-from-home with grace and good humor — everyone was dealing with different situations, from home-schooling young children and dealing with a live-in parent to cramped apartment spaces and family financial stresses.

“So here we are,” thought Julian, “We like each other, and we’re trying to be flexible, caring, and sensitive to each other’s needs. In the process, that has become an excuse to avoid holding each other accountable for our behaviors and our performance. We’ve stopped holding each other’s feet to the fire.”

According to Lencioni, the inability to hold each other accountable is the most common team dysfunction. True accountability means that individual team members must be willing to hold each other responsible for their work and answerable for their behavior.

Based on other positive cohesive team behaviors, such as trust, healthy conflict, and team commitment, holding each other accountable can be accomplished with civility and respect — whether the issue is a team member showing up late to meetings, missing work deadlines, or behaving in a way that is disruptive to other team members. For more about setting expectations and accountability, read Arden Coaching’s blog post, “Essentials of Team Performance: Accountability.”

The coach’s insightful observations cut through the fog and the frustration and resulted in a fresh round of agreement about working as a remote team. The new agreement included taking into account the barking dogs and realities of working from home — not just holding everyone accountable to the old ways. Julian’s team re-created an environment where they knew that any accountability issues raised were not a personal assault, but meant for the good of the team. They appreciated the fact that, by being accountable to each other, everyone was being held to the same standards of behavior and performance. And they recognized that all team members would more readily take ownership for the final result.

To learn more about setting expectations, accountability, and team performance — in any work environment —  contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.