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Improving Team Accountability

02 Feb Improving Team Accountability

“I’m so frustrated,” he said to me. “I have a great strategic plan but I can’t seem to get my people to follow it. I need you to help me develop an accountability system for my staff. I think we need more accountability.”

My prospective consulting client was indeed frustrated. His 300-person organization was in a competitive industry at a time where many of his jobs were being shipped overseas, and he was pressured to do more with less and seemed to be getting more of less from his employees. The stress from shrinking margins, a shrinking pool of talent, and a shrinking client base all converged into a growing point of desperation.

“Bob,” I said to him with a firm voice, “based on what you told me about your company, I don’t think you have an accountability problem. I think you have an execution problem. Accountability is just the final step of teaching your people how to get things done. Once you build in a system of competent execution, creating an accountability system is just the icing on the cake. That’s actually the fun part when you do it the right way.”

If you face a problem similar to my client’s, consider this five-step model to get your staff to start thinking more in terms of getting things done and less about you watching over their shoulder:

  1. The plan starts with the plan. All of your staff, no matter where they are on the food chain, need to know about the direction of the company and the plan to take it there. If you hire an employee and fail to show him or her how they fit into the big picture, you are never going to see peak performance and maximum effort from that person. You might as well accept their contribution of being forty percent of what it could be.
  2. Make sure your team knows what is happening on the short term horizon. The long term vision of the company is important, but most people don’t even know what they’re eating for lunch tomorrow. All they can think about is today. Keep the long term vision focused on the future, but the intense focus on the execution of what is required from them in the next thirty to ninety days. Remember, when we focus our intensity on a specific issue, then the odds significantly increase that we’ll get the results we’re looking for. Think of this communication, the act of telling them why their work matters, as the lens of the magnifying glass that is powerful enough to transform harmless sun rays into an energy that can ignite fire. When we create a lens of focus, the intensity of our energy can give us positively explosive results
  3. When you direct the efforts of your team, make sure you tell them why their work matters. Tell them that their contribution on the project will help the department hit their target for the month and why that is important. Show them that the time they spend at work makes a difference in the lives of their colleagues. More than anything, we want to know our work makes a difference.
  4. Create an environment of open and honest feedback. Let your team know that they can bring up information on what is not going right. This is something that must be witnessed by their own eyes for them to feel comfortable telling you that a problem exists somewhere in the process. If they witness anything to the contrary, you will never, ever, ever receive information you need to manage your organization effectively.
  5. Set up accountability systems that encourage peer accountability. Create a ‘buddy system’ on the next project you are working on and measure the performance improvement. Let the team members choose which of their peers will keep them accountable for their specific issues. Test this model within your organization and see if it gets you better performance from your team. The ancillary benefits of this type of system include (1) better teamwork, (2) improved cooperation among staff, (3) a chance to develop and observe prospective leaders within your organization, and (4) something different and fun. The thrill of group achievement bonds peers together into a cohesive unit. By giving them a chance to take control of their lives and help their colleagues, you increase the odds of execution with this type of amiable observation and accountability. Teach them to ask each other, “What’s going to happen next and when?” When we start thinking in terms of execution, we get better at taking the actions we need to take. And when that happens, accountability doesn’t really seem to be an issue anymore.


Remember that real leadership is invisible. At the end of the day you want the team to rise up and say, “We did this ourselves. This is our company, our team, our results.” And when you achieve that level of integrating accountability into your plan of execution, work becomes meaningful, purposeful and fun.

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