What is joint accountability? What can you, as a leader, do to foster a mindset of joint accountability amongst your team members?
Joint accountability starts with recognizing that, as part of a greater whole, you and your team members are interdependent. To instill a mindset of joint accountability in your team, leaders must emphasize results over employees’ individual duties.
In this article, we’ll discuss some tips on how to foster a spirit of shared team accountability.
Joint Accountability Starts With Recognizing Interdependence
While each of your team members has specific responsibilities for which they’re individually accountable, they also have shared responsibilities—like picking up the slack to meet a group deadline when a coworker is sick—for which they’re jointly accountable. Any group that’s working toward a shared goal—a sports team, students submitting a group project, or employees at a company—succeeds or fails together. That interdependence means members need to be accountable together, too.
(Shortform note: In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey contends that interdependence is critical to success because your relationships with others affect your productivity and ability to grow. Three of his seven habits focus on developing your interdependence through collaboration, cooperation, and communication.)
To Nurture Joint Accountability, Focus on Results
To help people look beyond their basic responsibilities and think about the things for which they share accountability with others, leaders should emphasize the value of results. It’s not enough that people just do what they’re supposed to do—follow directions, check off the list of duties in a job description—if they’re not producing positive results. It’s not enough for the company as a whole to maintain a status quo while falling behind competitors. The results matter more than performing assigned duties.
Make it clear to employees what kind of results you’re looking for, and be specific—whether it’s to hit a certain sales threshold or grow the team by a certain number of roles. Identify the numbers you’ll need to see to know that you’ve succeeded. To score a goal, employees have to be able to see the goalposts.
(Shortform note: In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni asserts that by having tangible measures of success, teams are better able to attract and retain achievement-oriented employees. Also, it’s easier to evaluate performance, and a focus on results avoids the distraction and waste of energy occurring when team members pursue individual agendas at the expense of the team.)
Once you’ve established the need to get results, defined the results you’re after, and explained how you’ll measure them, you’ll then have to motivate your team to focus on results.
(Shortform note: On their Partners in Leadership website, the authors of The Oz Principle provide an interactive tool called the Propeller, which helps leaders and their teams focus, communicate and track key results, as well as build empowerment and ownership. As one aspect of the platform, team members each create a personal impact statement of how their role and duties contribute to achieving specific results; everyone can see everyone else’s impact statement to see how roles work together. A sense of empowerment increases team members’ motivation.)
The authors cite rewards as a valuable motivational tool, even if the reward is purely symbolic, like getting a gold star on your homework in school). Give people gold stars in the form of praise and recognition, as well as substantive rewards such as commissions, bonuses, and so on. Some companies offer equity, knowing that employees who own a piece of the company are invested in the whole, not just in their own job.
Lead With an Accountability Mindset
Once you understand the building blocks of an organization-wide culture of accountability, follow these steps to become the kind of leader who can create that culture:
- Examine your own motivations. Approach the task of creating an accountability culture with a desire to help people do better. If you use “accountability” to blame other people or shame them for slipping into a victim mindset, you’ll fail to create positive change. (Shortform note: Blaming or shaming others also likely means you’re not being honest about your own role in the problem. We’ll discuss honesty more below.)
- Set clear and specific expectations. Make sure people understand what results you’re looking for, what the organization’s goals are, why you’re following up with them, what purpose their reports to you serve. Give them a target to aim for. (Shortform note: Steps for setting employee expectations include ensuring they’re clear in your own mind, clearly explaining the reasons behind them, and putting them in writing.)
- Lead by example. Show people how you hold yourself accountable by modeling behaviors such as being proactive, owning your mistakes, focusing on results, and following through. (Shortform note: In Can’t Hurt Me, retired Navy SEAL and ultramarathoner David Goggins recommends holding yourself accountable by creating an “accountability mirror” by writing your goals on notes and taping them to your mirror, then having an honest conversation about your successes and failures while looking yourself in the eye each day.)
- Be understanding. It takes time for people to learn to be accountable. If someone reverts to victimism, offer support, encouragement, and constructive feedback. (Shortform note: To best support employees, check in often and communicate more than you think is necessary.)
|Accountability Strategies for Leaders|
In addition to the steps above, practice these daily accountability strategies for leaders:
1. Start with honesty: Accountable leaders set aside pride and admit their mistakes. They acknowledge their own role in problems and devise solutions that resolve conflicts and challenges fairly and reasonably, and focus on an end goal. They say, “I’m sorry.”
2. Seek input: When results are disappointing, accountable leaders seek feedback from bosses, peers, direct reports, and others about how things could have gone better, so they can improve in the future. They advocate for changes that improve efficiency, decision-making, and developing talent.
3. Deliver on commitments: Accountable leaders don’t shirk responsibility, over- or under-commit, or procrastinate. Before agreeing to do something, they ensure they have the time and resources to do it well.
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- Why you have more power to create change than you may realize
- How to stop thinking like a victim
- The four steps to mastering accountability