"You filled the room tonight! You delivered a compelling presentation, and the people I talked with as they were leaving expressed how wowed they were by you and your message. A couple of people even remarked that they did not know that the Commonwealth Club had such personally meaningful programs...and they said that they wanted to become members! That is a wonderful commentary on your program. Thank you for all the effort that you put into your event. It showed and it was worth it!"

Denise Michaud, Co-Chair, Grownups Forum, Commonwealth Club SF

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5 Questions to Help Leaders Build Accountable Teams

(posted: February 28th, 2017)

As a leader, one of the best things you can do for your organization, firm, or company, is to create highly-functioning, effective teams and a collaborative culture.

Effective teamwork contributes to higher levels of employee engagement, improves morale and helps to reduce turnover. That, as leaders know, benefits the bottom line.

To develop a truly effective, successful team requires putting foundational elements in place that build on each other to strengthen the team. The model I use to illustrate this idea is the one that Patrick Lencioni developed for the 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team - A pyramid, with each behavior resting on the ones beneath.

In my previous posts I talked about the need for team members to commit, encouraging healthy conflict and debate within teams, and the importance of starting with trust.

Accountability is the next level on the teamwork pyramid, and the topic of this post.

Leaders: Accountability Starts With You

Joseph Grenny captures the essence of peer accountability in his Harvard Business Review article, "Our research shows that on top performing teams peers immediately and respectfully confront one another when problems arise. Not only does this drive greater innovation, trust, and productivity, but also it frees the boss from being the playground monitor."

Within the most dysfunctional teams, there is no accountability at all, while in mediocre or average teams, leaders and managers hold team members accountable. However, in high performing teams, teammates manage the vast majority of performance problems with one another.

Accountability can be hard, and uncomfortable, and requires courage, especially when people are new to it. You, as the leader, need to model accountability, ideally starting within your executive team. When employees see that their leaders are held accountable, they are more willing to embrace accountability themselves.

5 Questions to Help You Create an Environment of Accountability

Once leaders commit to accountability, defining team expectations and norms will allow peers to practice holding each other accountable in a safe environment. Use the following questions to start the discussion on your team. Depending on your team dynamics, you may be able to combine this discussion with the one mentioned previously in the post on constructive conflict.

"The test of a manager is not how good he is at bossing, but how little bossing he has to do."

~Mary Parker Follett

1.) What is Expected?
People need to know exactly what they are expected to do, what their collective goal is, and what the successful outcome looks like. They also need to know what the consequences might be if the goal is not met. Be sure to define who owns which roles and what each function is responsible for accomplishing. If you are very clear on responsibilities, expectations, and costs of not delivering, it is easier for team members to hold each other accountable.

2.) What Behaviors and Actions do We Promote?
Team members need to work together to identify what is acceptable. Some of the things your team might want to talk about include: not holding back in meetings, avoiding back-channel politics, full engagement in meetings, being on time to meetings, being on time with commitments and deadlines, and staying off devices during meetings. Each team is different, so you may have other issues that are important to clarify. Discussing, understanding and committing to your team norms in advance helps team members feel comfortable calling out these behaviors.

3.) Public or Private?
Should an accountability issue be raised publicly or privately? Higher-performing teams are more likely to do this in public than in private. It benefits the whole group to see that team standards are being upheld and team members often learn from observing the process. But it should be done with respect, adhering to the norms of the team. See the "style" question, below, for more on that. When this is a new experience for a team, it may be difficult to do publicly at first. In this case, some role-playing may help build confidence. Of course, there will always be some conversations that are just too sensitive to do publicly.

4.) How Long Can We Wait?
Team members must consider a time frame for holding one another accountable. Should teams talk about it the moment an issue comes to light? A day later? A week later? There isn't a hard-and-fast rule here, because teams vary so much in the nature of their work, their schedule, whether they travel or not, etc. However, a good rule of thumb is that allowing an issue to go unaddressed more than a few days will make it more difficult to discuss. Decide what approach suits your team best and stick to it.

"At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant."

~Patrick Lencioni

5.) Style - How Do We Talk About It?
Team members tend to be more comfortable when they know how their colleagues are going to deliver feedback. Will teammates be careful not to offend? Will they be blunt and direct? Will the feedback come out of anger or a desire to help? Your team should decide on a style that works for you. Newer teams will probably want to start out more courteous and respectful. Teams that have worked together effectively for a long time often have a style that appears more confrontational to outsiders, but that fits the teams' expectations and norms.

The key to successful peer accountability is that everyone on a team feels empowered to hold other team members accountable, according to the above agreements. For accountability to become part of the culture, avoid making exceptions, and don't let one team member be above accountability.

The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team is the result of the partnership between best-selling author Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) and Wiley (DiSC Personality Profile). Kristi Royse and KLR Consulting are authorized partners of this innovative team development program. The 5 Behaviors program includes five core modules, individual profiles, participant handouts, team report and interactive facilitated team activities. It is effective, simple, personalized, proven and unifying.

Challenge Yourself
  • What are some other ways you have found to encourage accountability in your teams?
  • Can you share experiences you've had with dysfunctional teams? And/or with high-funcitoning teams?
  • Share with us a good experience you've had with a manager who encouraged accountability in her people.

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