Leadership in Action – Does Your Team Own It?

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“Accountability” is a word that leaders love, and individual contributors loathe. For leaders, we think of accountability as our team members taking ownership of their performance, thereby creating resilience and grit to keep working on the problem until success. For our individual contributors, all too often the word “accountability” is a way to affix blame for a mistake that was out of their control.

As part four of five Key Characteristics of team effectiveness, healthy accountability is built on the foundation of trust, a willingness to engage in healthy conflict and commitment to clear goals. When these first three characteristics are in place, a psychologically safe culture is created and the fear of blame or being the scapegoat is removed. Instead, your team demonstrates a willingness to address poor performance and hold everyone accountable to the same standard of excellence. An important distinction, regarding this healthy accountability, is that it is not exclusively top down. It is peer to peer.

When there is an absence of healthy conflict, peers are uncomfortable addressing performance issues and find it easier to simply accept below-standard performance. As a leader, not only do you need to set the tone for healthy conflict, but also role model taking the “who” out of addressing challenges and focus on “Next Time” by creating forethought in action and growth. There are two self-accountability methods for you to role model: addressing performance issues that you are aware of and performance issues that you may not be aware of, yet.

Role modeling the vulnerability to identify your own “misses” in performance is a critical norm to develop in your team. Simply state the miss and follow up with, “I am better than that. Next time you can expect me to…”. In that statement you can apologize and not get trapped in trying to find excuses. The point is getting to the recovery.

The second step is to check for performance issues that you may not be aware of, by asking, “What can I do better next time?” This is taking individual accountability for missing a standard of performance and declaring a commitment and path to fix it. “What can I do better next time?” is opening yourself up for feedback on your performance. When you ask for this from your team, it is important not to defend your actions. If you feel the need to defend, ask for more detail. Take the feedback, again state the miss, then add, “I am better than that. Next time, you can expect me to…”

These two self-accountability methods allow you to role-model accountability on what you know needs work and also role-model the idea that you might have a scotoma to a performance issue you do not realize. This, then, can become the norm for everyone on the team and part of a regular post-event debrief. Remember to reinforce the language used. It is “next time” not “should have,” as you are creating forethought for better performance, not dwelling on past mistakes.

As a leader, when you role model, as well as expect an openness to accept and fix performance issues, you Nurture Growth in your team and build the resilience and grit to keep them working on the problem until su