Tips for Holding Team Members Accountable

communication leadership management professional development work Dec 04, 2023

If you want to jeopardize the productivity and performance of your team and at the same time compromise trust and respect, DON’T hold your team members accountable. Before you protest, “But trying to get my co-workers to do anything always causes trouble,” let’s look at some facts.

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni lists the fourth dysfunction as Avoidance of Accountability – ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior that could harm the team.  Failure to maintain an organizational culture that values and demonstrates a high standard of excellence invites mediocrity, low morale, mistrust, and employee disengagement. Those are not the characteristics of a winning team! 

Many team members I have interviewed over the years admit to being apprehensive about holding their co-workers accountable for issues like poor communication, missed deadlines, lack of productivity or subpar work.  Many of them express a fear of confrontation and conflict. The negative effects are worse when poor accountability starts at the top. If the organization’s leaders don’t set a good example of healthy accountability, people under them often experience more fear of confronting legitimate issues.

It’s not easy to enter the “danger zone” of interpersonal communication involving difficult conversations.  In fact, when I interview individual team members, many describe themselves as conflict-avoidant. But, you can’t just excuse yourself from the process with, “That’s the way I am.” Unless a person is willing to address their aversion to confronting their co-workers when reasonable expectations are not being upheld they seriously lower their overall value to the team.

When employees are asked to explain their rationale for not holding peers accountable, these are their most frequently stated responses:

1. Regardless of what I say, it won’t make a difference
2. It’s not worth the risk of undermining the working relationship
3. It’s not my job or responsibility
4. If I confront my co-worker he/she might retaliate
5. I have no idea how to navigate the conversation

Most things in life that are worthwhile can be difficult or require some form of sacrifice, and holding a co-worker or employee accountable is no exception.  In the short run, looking the other way while a fellow employee fails to do their work with excellence is the easiest choice to make.  However, the impact the avoidant behavior can have on you and your team over time is quite costly, emotionally, relationally, and financially.

Whether you are a team leader or member, I want to help you with the challenge of holding employees and co-workers accountable with this simple, yet effective, list of strategies.

1. Establish clear standards for team performance
2. Keep the goals of the team front and center
3. Strive to guide, not harshly judge or punish
4. Identify the consequences of inadequate or incomplete work
5. Maintain the same standard of accountability for everyone
6. Be willing to confront both privately and within a team setting
7. Objectively address the behavior rather than attacking the person
8. Re-clarify the expectation and ask for agreement
9. Invite dialogue so as to better understand potential contributing factors
10.Emphasize encouragement, motivation and positive expectation

I encourage you to review this list regularly with your team and discuss each item in the context of your organization’s needs. Team members will buy in to the effort to maintain a level of excellence if they are given the opportunity to offer input and feedback about the process.  Acknowledge that confrontation is hard, but effort is appreciated. Be sure to reward those who commit to consistent implementation and follow through. Set the example of accepting criticism or opposing views with a good attitude.

One key thing to keep in mind is that learning healthy ways to hold one another accountable may take time, but if everyone commits to the process, I guarantee you will see a rise in quality of work and job satisfaction.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd


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