Accountability You Can Count On

ChecklistA critical component of any team is Accountability because it’s the only way teammates can know they can count on each other. But what is accountability? Quite simply, in the context of a team it is the understanding that everyone must provide an explanation for (or give an account of) whether or not they did exactly what they said they would do, knowing that they will be held responsible for their actions. The following guidelines should help you as a leader better communicate responsibilities and tasks so that the expectation of accountability is reasonable.

1) Give Clear Instructions. These must be detailed enough to ensure everyone involved is “on the same page,” and to answer the questions of what, how, when, where, and who as thoroughly as necessary. One of the biggest hindrances to proper accountability is ambiguity. If you don’t tell them, how else will they know? Better to give too much information than not enough. Be clear. Be specific. Don’t assume.

2) Have a Clear Assignment. You’ve likely been in meetings where a great idea came up and everyone seemed to agree that this was something the group should do. But by the next meeting, nothing had been done about it, because everyone thought someone else would take care of it. Statements like “We should do that” must always be followed by the question “Who will do it?” The task must be clearly handed to someone. That person can get others to help, by all means, but one individual must be made personally responsible for the results.

3) Get a Clear Commitment. The person assigned the task should say, verbally or in writing, “I’ll do it” rather than something like “I’ll try to fit it in.” Good intentions do not get the job done. But also be careful of team members over committing. Foster an environment where it’s okay to say “No,” as long as they explain why. As true accountability becomes an established part of the culture, members of the team will begin to understand the importance of their commitments and will not enter into them lightly.

4) Provide Clear Follow-up. Can you trust the commitment that was made? Can you trust that the instructions and assignment were clear? Has the situation changed? Instead of waiting until it’s too late, find out how things are going while they can still be corrected if necessary. Even after the work is done, it’s a good idea to follow up and see what worked, what didn’t, and what should be done differently the next time. Don’t micromanage. Check in at intervals appropriate to the task and the individual assigned. Just remember, without clear follow-up there is no accountability.

Team members have to know they can depend on each other to do what needs to be done, and that only happens when expectations are clearly communicated and everyone is committed to the success of the team. As with all things within the organization, the leadership sets the tone. If you’re going to hold others accountable make it clear that you expect to be held accountable too. Proper accountability requires a lot of intentional effort, but the payoff is immense, including reduced stress and a stronger team.