01/13/2015 04:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do I Make My Team More Accountable - Start Here

Is That So Hard?

The CEO had caught me in the hallway, looked around to make sure she wasn't overheard, and nearly shouted, "I'm so tired of this - people need to be more accountable!"

As we talked, it became clear that the CEO's notion of accountability was very different from what effective leaders do.

She continued, "They need to do what they're told to do, when they're told to do it. Is that so hard?"

Well no...that is, not if you've hired robots. If you've hired human beings, it's a bit more tricky.

Maybe you can identify with this CEO?

I know I've been there myself, just wanting team members to do what I expected. Another Product Development Manager I worked with started our conversation with, "This will help me get the minions to follow orders, right?"

And he wasn't joking...

How Do I Make My Team More Accountable?

This is one of the most common questions I'm asked by leaders at every level. Whether you're a frontline supervisors or president of the company, your success and influence depend on your accountability practices.

If you're like most leaders, you instinctively understand this, but...

You do accountability wrong.

What goes through your mind when you think of your boss "holding you accountable?"

For most people, this isn't a pleasant thought.

We begin leadership-life thinking that accountability means you get beat up or shamed, or disciplined when you don't get something done. Then we do the same to other people.

But that's not accountability.

In leadership, accountability is the act of holding yourself and your team to your commitments.

In healthy teams, celebration is an act of accountability. You acknowledge success and the fact that you fulfilled your commitments to one another.

When things don't go in accordance with your commitments, you are intentional and have the conversation with one another.

The Foundation of Accountability

Before you can make your team more accountable, you've got to have clear, mutual agreements about expectations.

Your agreements may include:

  • Values - how you and everyone on the team will treat one another as you do business together
  • Processes - what you and the team will do in the course of your work together
  • Outcomes - what you and the team will achieve with a specific time
Notice that all of these commitments include you.

This is where most leaders screw up accountability: they don't include themselves in the mutual commitment.

A few examples:

The CEO who shouted that people needed to do what they were told, wasn't following through on her own commitments. She claimed a value of mutual respect, but frequently belittled and insulted employees. (Violation of the values commitment.)

The Product Development Manager who wanted his minions to "do what he said" did not establish clear expectations and commitments in the first place, nor would he address clarifying questions. There was no chance the team could follow through because they lacked clarity. (Violation of the process agreement.)

And one time, I was frustrated with my HR Director because a project wasn't completed. I went to her office, impatient for delivery, and she reminded me that we'd agreed the project would be delivered by 5:00 pm...tomorrow, not today. (Violation of outcome agreement.)

Are You Accountable?
As with all your leadership, the first question is for you:

1) Do you do what you want from your team?

If you struggle to hold your team accountable, start to solve your problems with a strong look in the mirror.

  • If you say you're going to do something, do you honor that commitment to them?
  • Do you regularly celebrate victories and success?
  • When you break your commitment (as you inevitably will since you're not a robot) can your team members honestly bring it to your attention without facing reprisals?
2) Clarify Commitments
  • Values, Process, Outcomes

At minimum, everyone on your team should be clear about how you will treat one another, how you will accomplish your work, what you will achieve, and by when it will be done.

  • Check for understanding.

When you discuss a commitment with your team, don't say "Does everyone understand?" and settle for half-hearted head-nods...or worse, silence.

A better strategy is to ask, "We just agreed that we will do x, y, and z. Can you put that into your own words...what are we saying?"

You'll quickly discover whether everyone is on the same page or not.

These foundations are essential to make your team more accountable. With these in place you can move on to address obstacles, lack of training, problem-solving, unexpected problems, and so on.

Your Turn

Remember, the most essential steps to make your team more accountable are to lead by example with personal accountability and ensure the team has crystal clear commitments in place.

Leave us a comment and share: How does your team practice healthy accountability?

Creative Commons Photo by joelgoodman