Building Accountability

Building Accountability

This blog covers factor 3/5 in the 5 Factors of Leadership and Team Success.

When executives are asked what leadership skills they wish their leaders were better at, one of the most common responses is the ability to hold their people accountable. This actually indicates a red flag, as it is an indicator that the organization as a whole is not very accountable. Rather than a focus on holding others accountable, we should instead be making the shift towards developing people who are accountable

Wait, What Do You Mean?

Let me explain myself by asking a few simple questions for you to ponder:

  • How would you describe someone who is accountable?
  • How do we hold someone else accountable?
  • How do we hold ourselves accountable?

What I hope these questions spark in you are some ideas you had for yourself on what accountability looks like, and how personal accountability is quite different from a leader holding others accountable. This shift is about taking personal responsibility, and we can’t expect it in those we lead unless we model it ourselves.

What Accountability Looks Like

In a team that has high levels of accountability, you will notice a few key elements:

  • Everyone seeks to understand the goals of others. Of course this is true! How can I really know how to best help others if I don’t know what their goals are? Taking responsibility to understand this is a critical step to being personally accountable. 
  • The actions I take consider others’ needs so that we can gain greater collective success rather than focusing solely on my own accomplishments.
  • A positive pressure from the team drives accomplishment because we expect great things from each other. 
  • Team members will frequently check-in with each other on their impact on others. 

A Quick Story

Sometimes in an effort to be helpful to others, we can actually cause negative effects when we don’t mean to. For example, at one point in my career I led a group of technical writers that created documents related to company products. Their output was one area of my team’s focus, and I would often help create/edit documents when needed. Sometimes in my desire to be efficient and get tasks off of their plate I would complete small change orders that I thought would take little time and cause small impact. When I did this, however, I would skip some steps in our process that I thought were unimportant in the name of speed. Come to find out, when I did this my team members would often have to clean things up the next time those documents were edited/changed again. My actions that I thought were saving time were actually causing other problems because I didn’t actually understand what would really be most helpful. After learning this, I had to make some significant adjustments in my approach to leading and understanding their work. 

Actions To Make the Shift

First and foremost, each team member should take the time to learn how their work affects and impacts other team members, different teams, customers, or other stakeholders. After learning this, they will be better able to organize their own work for high impact. 

A few other ideas include:

  • At the end of a meeting, review key decisions and what needs to be communicated outside of the meeting. Make assignments!
  • If a decision cannot be made immediately (due to lack of information, etc.), use a clear deadline when a decision will be made.
  • Publicize team goals, who needs to deliver, and team expectations. 
  • Identify key people you impact in your work – check-in with them regularly on how well you are doing in helping them.  
  • Shift rewards away from individual performance toward team achievement

What else would you add to the list? I would love to know. Share examples so we can all learn from you!

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