Ac*count*a*ble (adjective)

  1. responsible
  2. able to be explained

By far, the hardest thing I see teams struggling with is accountability. And that's not surprising. How many of us are really good at accountability in our day-to-day lives? (Think about how many times you've let a loved one off the hook--for "good reasons" of course, but the impact is the same.) So to imagine that we'd have an easy time holding colleagues feet to the fire is unrealistic at best.

The problem, of course, is how a lack of accountability undermines teamwork and success.

Consider this scenario: Tony, a manager in a technology company, was having trouble with one of his direct reports, Jacob. Over time, it became clear that not only was Jacob not doing his job very well, but he was increasingly belligerent, abusive, and evasive. As Tony worked to hold Jacob accountable (by clearly outlining expectations and goals and talking about it when Jacob fell short), Jacob became more and more unruly. At every opportunity, he talked about his lack of respect for his boss. He applied for another job within the organization. When it became clear they had reached the end of the line, he asked Tony for references and an introduction for a job at Tony's former company.

Here's the amazing part: Tony almost did it.

I realize that this seems like a crazy situation cooked up to make a point, but let me assure you that this is real. And as extreme as this situation sounds, it's not unusual for many of us to look for any possible way to make holding people responsible easier. Intuitively, I think we also understand that the best possible thing that Tony could do for Jacob would be to continue to hold him accountable and to not back down. That is the only way Jacob will change his behavior, which he needs to do to ensure his own success. I have seen managers who would rather fire someone than hold that person accountable.

Here are some ways to make accountability actionable:

  1. Be clear about expectations
  2. It's OK to admit how hard accountability is (vulnerability is your friend)
  3. Use your team--set the same expectations for the group and encourage everyone to pitch in and hold team members responsible
  4. Do not let up; consistency is key
  5. Honor your colleagues by holding them accountable and giving them the opportunity to change
  6. Team accountability should happen at the team level, which helps make the behavior "normal" and eliminates second guessing
  7. Tell the kind truth; hard things don't have to be said harshly
  8. Don't back down; do not undermine your own good work by backing down
Published on: Aug 7, 2014