Saying what you do and doing what you say. That’s accountability. It builds trust. Everyone knows that trust is crucial in personal relationships like in your marriage, with your children and family or between your friends.
However, trust is vital to crafting a breakthrough team too. Or to build an engaged society or ecosystem.
“Trust comes on foot and leaves on horseback.”
Accountability helps to build trust and nurture a winning culture with engaged people, which is one step away from a footprint culture.
But it’s hard. Look at the number of divorces, look at the low engagement levels in so many companies and look at the leadership crisis we are facing in so many countries right now. Lack of accountability limits productivity, kills morale and destroys trust.
Accountability means showing up and setting out to accomplish the things you’d said you’d do. It’s about taking personal responsibility for your work. It’s also trusting in your teammates and knowing you can count on each other to get things done.
Creating a culture of accountability is an essential tool used by high-performing teams to foster better work relationships, eliminate surprises, and improve overall job happiness. Too many leaders confuse “happy people” with “satisfied” or even “motivated” people. You don’t win the WorldCup with satisfied or motivated people. You win it with “committed” people. People who are accountable. I believe that true happiness comes when you are truly engaged, and accountable for your own life, aiming for a massive goal together with your team. With all the ups and downs that come with it.
Is your team plagued with missed deadlines, broken promises, procrastination, or vague expectations? Do managers constantly hound coworkers for updates? Do you hear a lot of excuses and defensive words? Do you feel stressed because people are not doing what they should? If those symptoms sound familiar, your team may have an accountability gap.
Change starts with you
Are you the leader pointing at your team when things go wrong, or even worse: taking all the credit for the success of your team?
Like always in leadership, team accountability is impossible without strong personal accountability, so it’s important to first work on yourself before approaching an accountability conversation with co-workers or direct reports.
Ask yourself the question: do my team members know what I’m accountable for, can they challenge me on that, do I actively ask them to challenge me and how do I react when they challenge me? Defensive? And what do you do when you break trust?
Rest assured, people will copy your behaviour.
Be a broker of trust
Every day is day one. Daily habits, that’s how you grow thyself. Do you want to start changing towards a more accountable organisation? Start by saying what you will do and start doing what you say. Accountability isn’t just something to think about during quarterly reviews or when something goes wrong.
High-performing teams practice accountability every single day – through open communication, sharing commitments, cheering each other to victory, and reporting on their progress. No surprises!
I like what Evans says in the “Accountability Puzzle“:
- Clear expectations: the ask, task, expectation, or project should be detailed and clear. The SMART framework is a good start. So not just “I want to be successful”.
- Specific date and time: Be specific about dates and times. I see so many people struggle with that. Specifying a date is like saying “on that date we will organise the Hercules Trophy”. That’s setting a date and doing everything in your power to reach your goal by then.
- Ownership: One task, one owner. Each task owner takes responsibility for seeing it through and accepts responsibility for the outcome.
- Sharing: Accountability is created when two or more people know about a specific commitment. It’s crucial to make your team your accountability partners—it’s about declaring your commitment and asking your teammates to hold you accountable.
Accountability is not a one-time, sometime thing; it’s an all-time thing. Those people who don’t want to be accountable, or held accountable, are always looking for any opportunities to get out of it. Any slips or gaps in your accountability will give them the out they need, to only be accountable when they see fit.
When people don’t take accountability and things start to go awry they go into spectator mode and watch as things fail. If they thought it would fail from the outset it’s even worse; they go into I told you so mode, which nearly always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When people take ownership if things start to go wrong, then they step into solution mode. They start to try and figure out what’s going wrong and try and fix it. They share the pain that comes with it. Teams that are successful are full of people that go into solution mode. They are full of people who not only care but take care.
I’ve seen many leaders who understand they have to delegate, but they forget to check. You can’t just tell people they’re accountable, and then leave them to it. Yes, it may work for some, but not for all. You need to set up review sessions; you have to check in and see how people are doing.
This serves three purposes:
- It lets them know that they will be held accountable for the activities.
- It gives you an opportunity to provide support in case things start to go wrong,
- It offers you the opportunity to offer praise and encouragement to move people further if things are going well.
Last but not least: too many people leave accountability to “the centralised boss”. Accountability and trust are something you need in every single relationship and it’s impossible for “the boss” to manage that. It’s a decentralised responsibility.
Just imagine that we could measure the trust level of every single relationship in a team, a society or an ecosystem. It’s called a “full mesh topology” for the nerds amongst us. Say you have 10 people in a team, you would have 10×9 “ports” and 10×9/2 “relations” That would mean 90+45 data points to “manage”.