Jess is responsible for this. John is responsible for that.
That all sounds great. But is it actually true? When a leader says somebody is accountable or responsible, it actually doesn’t mean much.
For someone to take responsibility, you first need them to buy in. Many times, I’ve seen leaders fall flat on their face. They expect somebody to take responsibility, but that person doesn’t.
I’ve done it myself. Expected somebody to step up and be responsible, but they didn’t.
When this happens, the first thought that comes to mind is that the person is useless.
Not a team player.
It’s time to think again.
There are good reasons why people don’t take responsibility
When you want somebody to take accountability or responsibility, you can’t just say it. You need to set up conditions that enable it.
There are leadership behaviours that can help to hold people accountable.
But then, on the other side, there are factors that stop people from accepting responsibility or accountability. If you’re having a problem getting people to step up and take responsibility, these might be issues in your team.
1. People won’t take responsibility because they lack the skills or experience
I’ve seen situations where leaders tell others they are accountable or responsible for tasks that are unfamiliar. Often it happens when people leave a team and aren’t replaced.
The boss: “Sarah, you’re responsible for handling all the sales enquiries that come in.”
Sarah: “But I’ve never done sales before.”
The boss: “Well, you need to take responsibility for it, because Josh left.”
That’s fine. Maybe Sarah does need to take responsibility for sales enquiries. But in order to make it work, you’ve got to provide her with the skills to do so.
Coaching, mentoring or training are all ways to achieve this. But don’t expect people to take responsibility without providing the tools to make it happen.
2. People won’t take responsibility because they don’t believe in your approach
When team members don’t agree with a leader’s approach to managing the team, they are less likely to take responsibility for tasks. People are less likely to commit because they are doing something they don’t believe in.
Telling someone they are accountable or responsible for something they don’t believe in is a recipe for disaster.
One way managers can avoid this is to communicate why.
Some leaders operate on a “need to know basis”, telling their team members only the bare minimum of information. But if you want buy-in and need people to step up and take responsibility, they need to know why it matters.
Communicating the reasons behind your decisions is a good way to help this happen. Otherwise, you’re forcing people to follow a path that they don’t want to tread.
3. People won’t take responsibility because they don’t feel supported
A critical factor in helping your team members take responsibility is to ensure that they feel supported. They need to feel as if you’ve got their back.
If you tell someone they are responsible and then leave them without support, there is a good chance they’ll lack confidence. They will be fearful and feel as if the weight is all on their shoulders.
If you want people to take responsibility, you need to support them. This means being available, listening to concerns, coaching and mentoring. Then you need to make sure you provide regular feedback on their progress.
Otherwise, your team members will feel as if they are being hung out to dry.
4. People won’t take responsibility because they aren’t interested in the work
Sometimes, efforts to convince someone to take accountability or responsibility fail because they just aren’t interested in the work involved.
This comes back to understanding what each team member wants to achieve in their career. If they have specific goals in mind, finding work that matches those goals can be a great way to encourage them to take responsibility.
Otherwise, your team member is going to feel the burden of responsibility, but without any of the benefits. If taking on responsibility isn’t getting them to where they want to go, you may be destined to fail.
We can’t always provide work that excites and motivates everybody. But the better you understand the goals and aspirations of your team members, the more chance you have of getting them to step up and take on responsibility.
Every leader and manager wants people to take responsibility for their actions and their work. But just saying it doesn’t make it so.
You need to provide conditions in your team to help it happen. Otherwise, you are bound to run into trouble and you’ll be the one suffering the consequences.
What have you done to help your team take responsibility?
Have you had a situation where people wouldn’t take on accountability or responsibility for their work? Let me know in the comments below!