Holding hands illustrating team accountability

Building team accountability is all about setting goals, supporting your team members, and understanding how your team fits into the bigger picture.

We all know what it’s like to work with a team that’s not the most high-functioning — missed deadlines are the norm, team meetings aren’t productive, and no one seems to know what they’re doing. Working on these kinds of teams can be frustrating to say the least, but, underperforming teams aren’t always the result of bad team members. It sometimes means you need to work on building team accountability.

So, what is team accountability, anyway?

Team accountability is all about individual team members holding each other accountable in order to accomplish team goals. When team members feel accountable to their teams, they take ownership of their work and actively work to support team objectives.

Joseph Grenny, a leading social scientist for business performance, found something interesting about team accountability after studying multiple business teams:

  • Weak teams displayed no accountability.
  • With mediocre teams, the manager was the person who held team members accountable.
  • In high-performing teams, team members held each other accountable.

How can you build a culture of accountability on your team this year?

Communicate team goals.

In order to build a culture of accountability, it is crucial for each person to understand how they contribute to your team’s goals. At team meetings, make sure to communicate how your team fits into your company’s bigger picture as well. This kind of context will give team members a shared purpose. They will be able to understand why their work is important and how it affects other people at the company.

PRO TIP: At the beginning of each week, month, or quarter, have a brainstorming session where team members can help set team goals. They will feel more ownership over their work if they helped come up with team initiatives.

Establish clear roles and expectations.

After setting team goals, it is important to establish clear team roles and expectations, so everyone has a clear idea of what they are doing. For example, if your team is preparing a big quarterly presentation for a client, you might need to specifically delegate tasks and responsibilities. Use this time to set clear expectations for the work as well.

PRO TIP: Give examples when establishing roles and expectations. Say things like, “A successful project would look like this…” or “As project manager, I imagine you doing this…” These examples will help your team visualize their role in a project and know what is expected of them.

Discuss your team’s successes and areas for improvement.

At the end of a project, be sure to make time to debrief on the team’s successes and mistakes. Use a large poster board or whiteboard to make these lists so everyone can see. Let everyone contribute and ask your team two simple questions:

  • What did we do well?
  • How could we improve next time?

PRO TIP: When having this conversation with your team, try to focus on behaviors that made your team successful or unsuccessful instead of individual people. Being behavior-focused will ensure that your team is motivated to replicate good behavior and will make sure people don’t get their feelings hurt.

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Provide opportunities for feedback.

Creating a culture of accountability is all about providing opportunities for constructive feedback among your team members. This should not only be manager-to-employee but also peer-to-peer. This will help your team members understand the importance of their relationships with one another and allow them to grow as team players.

PRO TIP: It might be easiest to facilitate anonymous peer-to-peer feedback at first. You can do this by asking team members to fill out anonymous surveys about one another. You can also try other methods of giving and receiving feedback like feedback sessions at the end of team meetings, shout-outs at the end of emails, or one-on-ones.

Increasing your team’s accountability will help your team become more productive and achieve better results than ever before. Make 2018 the year where you focus on developing not only as individuals but as a team.

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