According to the Harvard Business Review, a key component of the most successful teams is accountability for results. The research reported by HBR found three main types of teams:
- Weak teams, where there was little to no accountability among the team members
- Mediocre teams, where the boss takes over the role as the main source of accountability
- High-performing teams, where members of the team feel comfortable approaching each other and offering accountability.
Understanding the importance of accountability in team dynamics and building a culture where people accept this responsibility can be a challenge. When teams learn how to tap into it, however, it can result in tremendously positive return.
What happens to teams that lack accountability
When teams lack accountability, it can result in a number of challenges for the group. Here are just a few that you will likely see materialize:
- Team members will become resentful. People who work hard and achieve, or even exceed, their personal objectives, will become resentful of those who do not put in their fair share of effort. When team members are held to different standards based upon personal work ethics rather than objective standards, people naturally become annoyed with those who do not appear to do their parts of the project. This leads to disunity within the team and makes it harder for them to get things done.
- People fall towards mediocrity when they do not have an objective standard to reach. When people have the same experience with the team regardless of the amount of effort they put forth, they become far more likely to do a mediocre job on their tasks. They lose their results-oriented approach as well as their drive to succeed and excel because they do not receive personal or team benefits for their effort, nor do they receive any consequences for not meeting standards. This results in a group of people doing a mediocre job on the team, thus hindering the group’s ability to strive for success.
- Team members begin to miss deadlines. It becomes harder to keep people on track to meet various deadlines or to turn in important deliverables on time when there are no objective standards in place. Without accountability, it becomes very easy for people to slip on their responsibilities, and the lack of accountability will make it difficult to determine precisely who had let their job slide so that the deadline could not be met. This can easily set the entire project behind and hinder progress.
- The leader becomes forced to be the main source of discipline. Teams work best when the members feel as though they can trust each other and clearly know their roles and responsibilities. When there is no accountability, or when there are no objective means of evaluating the progress of members or the team as a whole, the leader of the team becomes the only person who can effectively keep the project on task. They become the sole person trying to keep the team moving forward, which disrupts many of the critical components of a strong team. Since discipline measures will be taken without objective standards, trust may begin to erode within the group. There may also be a breakdown among the roles that team members were supposed to focus on, as the roles and responsibilities will not be clear-cut.
What teams look like when they have strong accountability
A team that has effective accountability will find it easier to function and will drive results. Team members will feel more comfortable being open with each other about each other’s progress and work ethic, as they will be able to evaluate progress and success against objective metrics. This makes it possible to bring attention to the potential shortcomings of others, offer encouragement, and work together to find solutions without eroding trust or making people feel targeted. This will nurture relationships between the team members.
The objective metrics that are used both for the team members and the group will also make it easier for the team to identify any potential problems that arise. Since progress is monitored against clear standards, failure to meet these standards will immediately signal a need for an evaluation.
Failing to have standards might make it easier for problems to hide for long.
Thanks to the metrics, the problems can be rooted out easier, discussed, and solutions can be found with fewer arguments. This will help the team perform more effectively and efficiently.
As teams progress with their projects, it also becomes important for them to evaluate their strategies. Accountability and metrics will empower the group to see how well these various strategies measure up, rather than relying on gut feelings or impressions. When the project goes well, the team will be able to clearly see the reasons for their success. If deadlines are not being met, however, the metrics can also be used to root out problems and find an improved path forward.
Finally, the team members will all know that they are each held to a high standard that encourages them to put forth their best work. Mediocrity will be eliminated, as people who do not perform and meet their standards will be easily rooted out. Those who continually meet and exceed their standards, however, will also be easily discovered, contributing to their motivation to succeed.
As team members know that their work is needed and that their teammates are putting forth equal levels of effort, their respect for each other will grow. This will improve the trust and communication between the teammates, setting them up for further success.
The team collectively will be able to see their progress towards the team objectives. This will increase their engagement and prevent discouragement. They will know that their work matters and makes a difference for the group.
How to build a culture of accountability on your risk-based team
Step 1. Determine the objective assessment metrics that you will use to evaluate the members of the team.
This metric should allow you to easily understand if the targeted goals have been met and how well the different members of the team perform. When the team first begins to meet, lead a discussion about the metrics that will be used. Let the team members know what the metric will reveal, why these metrics have been chosen, and the type of action that can be taken based upon the metric. For example, if repeated failures to meet the standards can result in dismissal from the team, let people know up front.
This helps to preserve trust and communication within the group. The metrics should measure the ability of the team member and the team altogether to work towards the objectives of the group.
Step 2. Create objective standards that the team members will need to abide by.
These standards will help to establish the work ethic and culture of the team. They will encourage people to behave ethically and ensure that the project aligns with the core values of the organization. People should know how the standards fit with the larger picture: meaning how the standards that they reach will help the group as a whole attain their objectives.
Step 3. Give regular progress reports.
People perform better when they feel as though someone is paying attention.
Receiving a progress report will allow the team member to see how well their behavior and activities align with the objective metrics and standards that have been established for the team. They will have the chance to discuss their contributions to the team with a group leader and how they can help the group collectively accomplish more. If a team member learns that they have not been meeting their objectives during the project, they can use this information to improve their performance and maintain the high group standard.
Step 4. Encourage your team leader to lead by example.
When people see their classmates accomplishing great things, it can encourage them to do the same. Give them opportunities to see the leaders engaging in productive activities.
Step 5. Reward success.
People feel motivated to work if they know that the others around them value them and their accomplishments. Rewards can help to accomplish these messages. Reward the team when they do manage to meet or exceed the expectations originally laid out for them.
This will help keep the team unified, rather than splitting up team members and creating an environment where they fight for themselves. Rewarding group success, however, keeps the team together, but still lets the members know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Step 6. Let people know directly that you expect them to hold each other accountable.
Tell them about examples of the need for accountability, or even about a time when you were held accountable. Creating an environment based on accountability can help your risk-based team succeed. Your members will know precisely what is expected of them and of their teammates. This open communication of expectations and objective means of measuring success will make it obvious how well team members perform, encouraging everyone to give their all to the project. The benefits for your team will be numerous as you take these critical steps to prepare for your new risk-based project.