Accountability means holding yourself to a standard, meeting expectations, and tracking progress. On teams, however, individuals have to hold each other accountable.
Ideally, each member holds themselves accountable to help achieve larger goals instead of individual ones.
Yet most organizations lack effective accountability in teams. Gallup found that only 4 in 10 employees feel their managers hold them accountable to goals they set. Worse, 84% of the workforce ranks their organization as “trying but failing” or altogether “avoiding” accountability.
Accountability can improve organizations by increasing engagement, heightening creativity, and deepening employee satisfaction. If your employees miss deadlines or communicate rarely with one another, you have an opportunity to create an environment with better team accountability.
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What Is Team Accountability?
Team accountability is when members hold themselves responsible for individual tasks, commitments, and deadlines to achieve larger organizational goals. When a team holds itself accountable, it produces better results and ups its productivity.
Accountability in the workplace can appear in multiple forms, such as:
- Meeting deadlines
- Communicating progress to managers and team members
- Producing high-quality work consistently
- Embracing task delegation and assignments
- Giving and receiving constructive feedback
Effectively exercising accountability can result in a number of positive outcomes, including:
- Empowered employees who work more independently
- Greater trust between team members
- Decreased employee turnover
- More transparent and clear communication
Creating accountability requires more than asking employees to take responsibility. To start, you can foster team accountability by familiarizing yourself with each employee, communicating a clear mission, and doing other steps.
How To Create Accountability in Teams
1. Align your team with a mission statement
Organizations often have broad, high-level goals. Teams can similarly adopt a mission statement specific to their unit. A team mission statement keeps employees accountable by ensuring their work aligns with the ultimate goals.
You can craft one by answering the following questions and summarizing responses into a short statement:
- What is my company's mission statement?
- What role does my team play in the organization?
- How does my team help my company achieve its mission?
2. Build personal relationships
Team accountability requires building personal relationships between team members. You can foster trust through team-building activities, such as one-on-one coffee chats and team outings.
Consider asking team members which activities they would like to do together. You can also encourage them to hang out with each other outside of work by giving them vouchers for food or drinks.
3. Strengthen communication between team members
To improve communication between team members, you could host daily standup meetings, checking in with each other on their progress and planning for future tasks. You could also try asynchronous meetings where team members send written updates via email or instant messaging.
Regardless of how your team prefers to communicate, encourage them to build a habit of checking in with each other.
4. Schedule regular one-on-ones
Meeting with your team individually can help promote accountability. You can chat with them about issues or concerns they may not feel comfortable sharing with the larger team. You can also provide feedback specific to their work or projects.
One-on-ones can follow a daily or weekly schedule to ensure you can keep up with their assignments and offer yourself as a resource.
5. Create a responsibilities chart
Ideally, your team designates clear responsibilities to each member. To keep things organized, create a responsibilities chart detailing which assignments and projects each member of your team owns. You could also include a separate section showing whom to contact within the team for certain questions. This chart should include:
- Names and contact information
- Projects or assignments
- Expertise and skill sets
6. Give your team needed resources and tools
Always provide team members with the necessary resources and tools to perform their job. When assigning ownership on certain projects, ask members if they require any additional information about the task. This might include, for example, tutorials, articles, or online tools to improve their chances of success.
7. Practice transparency
Eight in 10 workers associate accountability with punishment. After all, if someone makes a mistake or fails, accountability implies some sort of consequence. However, effective accountability takes a more restorative approach than a punitive one.
To create a healthy sense of accountability, start by practicing transparency. Empower employees to share hurdles or lessons learned from mistakes. As a manager, you should share your own failures to show it’s OK to make mistakes.
8. Get comfortable with tough conversations
In the workplace, tough conversations happen no matter what. An employee might regularly show up late, or a team member might produce less-than-stellar results on a project.
Accountability necessitates getting comfortable with difficult conversations, despite the fact over 7 in 10 employees avoid having them.
Mastering hard conversations comes with practice. So, when the need to have one comes up, talk with the employee. Skirting the issue will only cause further problems. You can make the most out of the chat by trying the following strategies:
- Using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel that… “) to avoid attacking the other person
- Staying confident but firm
- Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes
- Focusing on specific facts instead of opinions
- Asking the other person for their thoughts
- Actively listening
- Collaborating with the other person on finding a solution
9. Build planning habits within the team
Encourage your team to plan ahead. When a worker receives an assignment, for example, they should develop a game plan and share it with their co-workers. You might consider making use of a project management software, such as Trello or Asana, and asking members to manage their projects within it.
Each project should include details like people assigned to each task, deadlines, key performance indicators (KPIs), and any other relevant information.
10. Empower your team to take a solutions-oriented approach
Encourage employees to bring solutions, not just problems, to the table. This helps build accountability as it makes team members responsible for issues they identified while working.
When a worker encounters a problem, ask them to think about a few potential solutions, then let them open up a discussion with the rest of the team.
11. Highlight lessons learned from failure
For an organization to remain innovative, workers should feel comfortable with making mistakes. Make space for your team to highlight lessons learned from failures.
This might look like a monthly call featuring different presentations or a more informal chat group in which team members share small takeaways from their projects.
12. Reward successes
Almost 4 in 10 employees want to receive rewards for strong work, including cash and non-cash incentives. Since accountability encompasses both positive and negative results, ensure you reward achievements on your team.
You could give shoutouts through presentations or offer a small bonus as an incentive. Ask your team what they would prefer to help you find the most effective reward.
13. Ask for team members to take meeting notes
Often, an entry-level worker gets assigned the role of documenting meetings. However, to keep everyone accountable, ask each team member to take their own set of notes. That way, you can ensure they know exactly what they need to work on.
Team Accountability Examples
Putting everything together, team accountability can show itself in meetings, collaborative projects, individual work, and other areas.
Consider a marketing team dealing with a high-stakes campaign to launch a new product. To build team accountability, the team manager hosts daily standup meetings. Each member shares their progress, any hurdles, and whether they need assistance from others.
Throughout the week, the manager meets one-on-one with them to cover more individual issues. Outside of chats, the team manages their work regularly using a project management software.
This allows everyone to be aligned with the end goal, address problems collectively, and keep track of tasks every step of the way.
Outside of communicating clearly and often, team accountability can also appear when dealing with failures. If a manager, for example, notices a dip in productivity on their team, they can view this drop as a learning opportunity.
Instead of punishing the workers, they gather the team, talk about any issues hindering their success, and extract takeaways. In the end, restorative team accountability keeps the team’s morale high while fixing their failure to meet expectations.