6 Foolproof Ways to Overcome a Lack of Accountability

Feb 27, 2017 | Training

Let’s start with a little avoidance of accountability story


Hidden away in a far corner in the west of Ireland there is a small team working on a project for a large organisation.

The team gets on well, they value their relationship with one another and they don’t engage in gossip or office politics.

After some time working on one particular assignment, they notice that Sally doesn’t seem to be engaged, committed or working to her previous standards.

The other team members figure that she must have a lot going on and decide not to push her too hard or say anything.

But they find that, over time, avoiding the problem doesn’t make it better.

When it comes to Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, it’s often the case that one dysfunction leads to another.

Sally’s lack of commitment gradually becomes an avoidance of accountability, and nobody – not herself, her boss or her co-workers – is doing anything to keep her accountable for her goals and objectives.


So, what do Sally’s colleagues do?


They see a team member not giving their best effort, compromising the project’s end result and what do they do? They say nothing.


They get on well and they don’t want to disturb the peace.

They say nothing, because they want to avoid the discomfort of having to confront their colleague and potentially damage their valued relationship.

“As hard as it is sometimes to enter the danger with your direct reports and confront them with something sticky, it’s even harder with your peers” (Lencioni, 2002, p.98)

But the team’s frustration builds up over time and starts to come out in the form of passive aggressive comments and a negative atmosphere.

And who wants that?

In the long run it’s best to be honest with one another and to motivate and encourage team members to pull their weight.

Even if it means feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable at the time, in the end it can lead to strengthened relationships and a greater level of trust and respect.

As Lencioni remarked, peer pressure is by far the best way to keep standards of performance high!

TechTarget further illustrate this by saying that leaders are the ultimate arbiter of accountability, but they should never be the primary arbiter of accountability.

Below are some tips to overcome a lack of accountability.


6 ways to improve accountability


1. Develop a sense of shared purpose


When all team members are on board with a project and are headed the same direction, accountability will come.

Focus on why the project or assignment needs to be done and the benefits of carrying it out to a high standard.



2. Create specific, clearly defined goals and objectives for the end result


Clearly define what the ideal end result looks like and work backwards from there.

Check that everyone understands and is in agreement about what the team is working towards. To combat an avoidance of accountability, there should be no ambiguity around roles or tasks.


3. Focus on the positives. It’s about improvement, not punishment!


Far too often teams focus on the negatives. They can become blinkered and only see what they don’t like.

Encourage your team to open their eyes to what’s working. A culture of punishment can poison any seeds of creativity and innovation.

As Forbes points out, accountability should be about improvement, continuous learning and moving forward.


4. Flexibility works. Give your team members space


Ensure everybody’s voice is heard and listen respectfully to all ideas from team members. Once goals, tasks and priorities are set, don’t micro-manage.

As a leader, be there to give support when needed, but trust in the creativity and capabilities of team members.



5. When things aren’t going right, pause, reflect and make changes


They say we learn the most when things aren’t going right. The same goes for at work.

In this excellent article by Leadershipwatch, the author notes that the best way to notice a lack of accountability on a team is when deadlines are being missed or a project isn’t working out.

Keep the atmosphere upbeat and focus on solutions to problems.


6. Provide regular feedback


As leaders, teammates and individuals, be honest with one another.

Lifehack make the point that in order to improve effectiveness when giving feedback, focus should be placed on behaviour, not the person.

Always be sure to note what positive things the team member is doing as well as what can be improved, and then support them as they make improvements.


Final thoughts…


Lencioni outlines how he came to understand the importance of accountability in this great YouTube video, which I highly recommend watching!

Perhaps the most striking thing I got from this was that if a leader is going to hold people accountable, then co-workers will think ‘hey, I might as well say something to Sally, seeing as my boss is going to say something anyway’.

When a leader acts upon the first signs of a lack of accountability, this attitude changes the culture and improves the entire workplace for the better.

Which of the six tips above are going to make a difference to your team’s performance?

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