The fourth of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team is avoidance of accountability. Building on my explorations of absence of trust, fear of conflict and lack of commitment, in this post I’m going to look into the avoidance of accountability.
So how do you tell if your team is suffering from this? Here are a few warning signs to look out for – and what to do if you spot them.
Your team is unclear on its goals
When you don’t know what your responsibilities and aims are, it’s really hard to hold yourself and others accountable! If your team consistently underperforms or misses deadlines, ask yourself if you actually know what’s being asked of you. If not, see if you can get some clarity from those in leadership positions – everyone will benefit from knowing what standard they’re being held to.
Your team’s goals don’t evolve over time
Having completely static goals can encourage a culture of mediocrity – hold someone to a low standard, and that’s what they’ll achieve. A high-performing team will pursue personal and professional development, and their goals should encourage this sense of engagement and improvement. Open communication is, as always, helpful for combating this. Perhaps the larger organisation isn’t developing your team’s goals, but do team members have things they’d like to achieve? If so, you can hold each other accountable for them, helping each other improve.
Raising performance issues about others feels uncomfortable
It’s normal to worry that calling a team member out for underperforming will be uncomfortable. But it’s vital to understand that it’s not a personal attack – it’s a necessary step for the whole team’s improvement. Not being able to do this can lead to resentment, especially as other team members pick up the slack and end up overworked. There should be structural support for holding each other accountable – speak to your manager about setting up regular team-wide meetings to review progress if you don’t already have this in place.
People point fingers too much
While some teams withdraw from holding each other accountable, others develop a toxic culture of blaming everyone but themselves. Both of these issues point to a lack of psychological safety, a vital ingredient for a successful team. Again, having a specified time and space for discussing team progress and individuals’ contribution (or lack thereof!) can help remedy this.
You go straight to a manager with your problems
All team members have a shared responsibility to hold each other accountable. If you’re so unwilling to engage with each other that you go straight to your boss if you feel someone’s not pulling their weight, that’s a problem. While those in leadership roles should be available to you when you can’t resolve a conflict or need extra clarity, they should not be your first stop. Instead, you should try to resolve things among yourselves first – you’re ultimately responsible for how your team performs.
Lencioni visualises the five dysfunctions as a pyramid, with trust the foundational layer. If you find your team shows some of these signs of avoidance of responsibility, the first question to ask is: have we addressed the earlier dysfunctions? If you’re afraid of conflict, for instance, it’ll be much harder to hold each other accountable. Have a look at my previous posts to see how you can move past those dysfunctions, and make your team more successful and harmonious.