Accountability is important for any team. Without accountability, people won’t take ownership and make sure work is done right. A leader is usually accountable for a team’s overall performance.
But that doesn’t mean the leader has to be the only accountable person in a team.
How do you know when you need to improve accountability in your team?
One mistake leaders make is that they feel they need to be the only accountable person. This isn’t always true. There are a few signs that show you could benefit from improving accountability in your team.
1. Improve accountability when you don’t know the details
If you are a leader who doesn’t know the technical details of the work, that isn’t always a problem. Some of the best leaders can remove themselves from the details and be more strategic.
However, when you don’t know the details of the work, you may need to improve accountability by delegating to somebody to take charge. Give them the responsibility to manage the technical work, because they are the best person to understand it.
2. Improve accountability when too many people are involved
Sometimes there will be too many opinions in your team. Before you know it, you will need to step in as discussions take too long.
Decisions might reach deadlock when team members can’t agree and they all have the same level of authority. This means that nobody can make a call and you may need to step in to fix it. However, this can be time consuming.
Why not instead delegate accountability to somebody who is in a better position to make the decision in your team?
3. Improve accountability when your team isn’t performing well
Accountability gives people a greater sense of ownership over their work. You can improve ownership by delegating responsibility for functions within your team for team members to lead.
When someone feels greater responsibility, they often feel personal pride, making them care more about the quality of their work. You can see this through improved motivation, enthusiasm and greater commitment to the team.
How to improve accountability in your team
I like to think of accountability this way:
When everybody is accountable, nobody is accountable.
If you fail to delegate accountability for a task to one person, nobody has ownership.
When “we are all accountable”, nobody owns the task. This is why it’s important to be specific. What you don’t want is a situation where team members say “I thought (someone else) was doing it!”
1. To improve accountability, choose one person
“Bob, you are accountable for making sure the letters go out on time.”
This tells Bob that he is the one in charge of this task. When things go wrong, Bob knows he needs to fix it. Bob knows if he doesn’t do it, nobody is going to.
2. To improve accountability, set clear expectations
“Kathy, you are accountable for making sure that the report is high quality”.
This sounds great, but is subjective. What do you mean by “high quality”? It would be better to be more specific. In this example, you might say that there should be no spelling mistakes, no blurred graphics or consistent fonts.
The clearer your expectations are, the less likely that there will be confusion about what you need.
3. To improve accountability, tell others about it
If you make Bob accountable for sending the letters on time, make sure you tell everybody in the team. Otherwise, when Bob starts to ask people about the letters, people will think “who made Bob the boss?”
The worst thing you can do is tell Bob he’s accountable for the letters, but forget to tell anybody else. Bob will be running around thinking he has authority for this, but nobody else will. This will make Bob’s job harder, and is a common mistake that leaders make.
4. To improve accountability, make it formal
If you want to make the extra accountability a permanent arrangement, make sure you include it in your team performance plans. In other words, make it formal.
Formalising accountability improves ownership, and also allows you to recognise team members for the additional responsibility. It also means they can add the role to their resume for future roles. This can motivate team members, because they feel they are developing their skills and taking on more responsibility.
5. To improve accountability, follow up and hold people to it
If you introduce accountability into a team that isn’t used to it, it will take a while. That’s why it’s important to follow up on the tasks that people are accountable for.
Explain clearly to your team members that when they commit to completing the task, they are accountable. Sometimes you need to make people a little uncomfortable in your team so that they know you’re serious. You don’t want to become a tyrant, but it needs to be clear that accountability means something.
Accountability is critical for a successful team. Teams will sometimes avoid it, because it can make them feel exposed. However, once accountability is clear, formal and widely communicated, it will improve the way your team works.
Remember, if everyone is accountable, nobody is accountable.