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Hold Team Members Accountable Without Blame

Are you someone who is responsible for your team’s results?

Do you need to collaborate with a team member to get things done?

Have you been asked to take on something that feels impossible?

If your answer is a yes to any or all these questions, you’ll benefit from removing the stigma associated with the word accountability.  Why does accountability appear to have a negative connotation? One of the reasons might be that before embarking on a task, it is difficult to know what the results are going to be. There could be varied reasons for this such as:

  • Several factors influence the task
  • Requirements for the task may evolve with time
  • Novelty of the task
  • Team members’ awareness and confidence in accomplishing the task
  • Unforeseen situations that may disrupt the task

Of course, these are just a handful of reasons why one may hesitate to fully accept responsibility for the task. You may not be able to control everything that will put your team members at ease in order to increase the sense of accountability. That said, there are a few things you can do.

Communicate the Context

Sometimes, team members zero in too much and don’t recognize all the elements at play. The intent of zeroing in may be to achieve greater focus. But greater focus without context may result in adding embellishments that may not be required for the result. We’ve all seen examples of developments to a product or service at the cost of function. Consequences of misplaced focus are demotivation, poor feedback, increased budget and increased time, to name but a few. There are instances of the results being completely off target too.

Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? So, what can you do?

When assigning a task or a project, take the time to communicate the context. Help your team member with information on who the consumer for their results is going to be and what’s expected. Be sure to let them know how the results will be used. This degree of transparency helps them ask suitable follow-up questions which then improves the quality of the results and minimizes the number of iterations to actualize the results, not to mention the savings on the ubiquitous budget and time that is central to projects. What’s more, communicating the context allows you to objectively evaluate their performance on task and provide specific feedback that promotes their professional development. Noticing how their work improves from one task or project to the next increases team members’ motivation, their courage to take on newer tasks and projects and the confidence to accept responsibility.

If you’re the one accepting responsibility for a task or project, take the time to ask some questions to fully grasp the context such as:

  • What is the goal and impact of this task or project?
  • How can we measure success?
  • What was the prompt for this task or project?
  • What is this task or project connected with?
  • What related changes are expected?
  • What are examples of similar tasks or projects in our organization?

These should reveal the results, budgetary or time constraints, and resources available to you. Figuring out what to do next and how to go about it will allow for well-founded focus and efficient results.

Create an Enabling Environment:

Creating an environment for team members to exude passionate accountability often requires clear communication. Communicate the reason for the assigned task or responsibilities, the stimuli they need to respond to, and the process that needs to be followed. Visualize and present the environment and workflow to help a team member better envision how they can get things done while keeping their eyes on the goal. Minimize barriers that get in team members’ way in order to maximize accountability. This approach can spur creative innovation at the workplace.

Creating an enabling environment sounds like an upfront investment on your team member. Don’t be put off by this requirement though because the rewards grow exponentially. Additionally, this investment minimizes barriers along the way. Imagine time and energy saved from not having to put out fires brought about by an unwary contributor.

Once you have architected the right environment, step back and observe how your team members respond to evolving situations. If you notice that their current capability is what’s getting in the way of getting things done, pave way for building their capability. Nothing drives accountability more than someone who’s grateful for a lifelong learning that keeps on giving.

Empower your team members to acquire relevant experience and develop nuanced judgment; you’ll grow along the way too.

Find the Coach in You

Anyone can give feedback, but it takes an inspiring leader to recognize the right time, the right way and the right kind of feedback to help team members accelerate their rate of progress. Coaching doesn’t just help people achieve goals, it provokes them to rethink their self-concept and their environment by enriching their perception.

Where does all this coaching leave you? Directing learning fills one with a sense of purpose. The joy from such purposefulness can only be experienced and not quite described. Remember the Robin Williams-Matt Damon scene in front of the pond in the movie Good Will Hunting? When Damon’s character begins to grow and heal, his therapist, played by Williams, has a renewed sense of purpose and begins to heal too. The movie is worth the watch if you haven’t already seen it. Knowledge and experience are different. Information and judgment are different. Empower your team members to acquire relevant experience and develop nuanced judgment; you’ll grow along the way too. It’s a mutually enriching experience.

The Bigger Picture

When the workflow is understood, optimized for effectiveness and a safe environment created for team members, every interaction deepens team members’ perception of people and their environment. When team members recognize the context and are empowered, fear of accountability is replaced by reverence for accountability.

About Kepner-Tregoe

Software and templates don’t solve problems. People solve problems!

What kind of people? People who are curious, ask great questions, make decisions based on facts, and are empowered to lead. They remain focused under pressure and act confidently to do what needs to be done. You’ll find these problem-solving leaders both at our clients and here at Kepner-Tregoe. For over 60 years, Kepner-Tregoe has empowered thousands of companies to solve millions of problems. If we can save millions for a manufacturer, restore IT service for a stock exchange, and help Apollo 13 get back from space, we can help your business achieve success.

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