In my last few blog posts, I’ve explored the first three of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team: absence of trust; fear of conflict; and lack of commitment. In this one, I’ll be looking at avoidance of accountability.
Of course, all the dysfunctions are linked, and a good leader will recognise that. Without trust, it’s impossible to have healthy conflict. Without open discussion, it’s hard to understand and commit to a plan. And if you’re unclear on what’s expected of you, how can you hold yourself accountable for it?
You as a leader need to make sure that your expectations of people are both reasonable and clearly communicated. If they are, then the next step is to nurture a culture where people hold both themselves and others accountable. Here are a few ways to do that.
Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them
Your expectations won’t be the same for every team, or every person, and they’ll need to be adjusted over time. But it always needs to be crystal clear what you’re asking for, and how you’ll know if it’s been achieved. How can people hold themselves and others accountable for goals they don’t know?
Create spaces where people can safely call each other out
It can feel very risky to tell a colleague you don’t think they’re pulling their weight, or to let a manager know that a team member isn’t contributing enough. But people can hardly hold each other accountable if they can’t even talk about it. Establishing structures and routines here empowers everyone to raise concerns and share ideas, and creates natural points at which to raise issues.
Encourage people to reflect on their own performance
Similarly, it’s helpful to establish self-reflective individual performance reviews, so people can hold themselves accountable. This has several benefits, such as helping people assess whether what’s expected of them is too much or too little, whether they need additional training to meet their goals, and so on. It also essentially creates deadlines for ongoing work, which can be very motivating for some people.
Have clear consequences for teams hitting or missing targets
As well as clarity about what’s expected of them, people will need to know what happens if they hit or exceed targets – and what happens if they fall short. This should always be applied on a team level rather than an individual one, to encourage team members to hold each other accountable for their shared success or failure.
Don’t monitor everything yourself
A leader needs to trust teams to hold themselves accountable to an extent. Don’t present yourself as an all-seeing eye, making sure every individual hits every target. Instead, create structures to support teams in monitoring their own performance on a day-to-day level – but also make it clear that they can and should come to you when there’s a problem they can’t solve. This will also help prevent a situation where you become the sole source of discipline, and need to constantly monitor staff who take no accountability for each other’s performance.
Following these guidelines will help you create a culture of accountability, where people take responsibility for their own and their team’s performance. You can use the same tools to encourage people to follow things like standards of ethics and behaviour. Just remember that in all these areas, as Lencioni puts it, “the enemy of accountability is ambiguity”.